Japan reached the last 16 of the World Cup by having a better disciplinary record than Senegal – after losing to Poland in their final Group H game.
The match finished in farcical fashion, with both sides happy to play the ball around at the back for much of the final quarter.
— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) June 28, 2018
Akira Nishino’s side finished with the same number of points, goals scored and goals conceded as Senegal, but were shown only four yellow cards during the group stage to the African side’s six.
Colombia’s 1-0 win over Senegal meant the South American team topped the group ahead of Japan, with those sides facing England or Belgium next.
Southampton defender Jan Bednarek’s well-taken volley following Rafal Kurzawa’s free-kick won the match for Poland, who were already eliminated.
Indeed Japan substitute Makoto Hasebe, who came on with eight minutes remaining, made a ‘card’ gesture to his team-mates to make it clear they were through as it stood.
Japan are into the knockout stages 🇯🇵 pic.twitter.com/1DkPvD8MJc
— B/R Football (@brfootball) June 28, 2018
Japan topped the group going into the final round of games, needing just a point to be assured of a place in the knockout stage for only the third time after 2002, when they were co-hosts, and 2010.
They were heading out when Bednarek scored, and Southampton’s Maya Yoshida headed just wide on 72 minutes as they pushed for an equaliser.
But two minutes later they were given a reprieve by Colombia defender Yerry Mina’s thumping header in the group’s other game.
As the news filtered through to the Volgograd Arena, both teams were content to sit back.
It was a risky strategy for Japan – a second goal for Poland or a Senegal equaliser would have eliminated them – but it ultimately paid off.