Japan scraped through to the last 16 stage of the World Cup despite a 1-0 loss to Poland in their last group phase match and having an identical record to Senegal, courtesy of FIFA’s fair play tie-breaker system.
Japan coach Akira Nishino decided to “rely on the other match” in Samara, where Colombia were leading 1-0 against Senegal – a scoreline that would put Japan through via the fair-play rule provided they did not concede again or pick up any further yellow cards.
Japan picked up two less yellow cards then Senegal and played in a negative way in order to see out the game with just a 1-0 defeat. Nishino, however, sounded uncomfortable with a decision that went down badly with the majority of the spectators inside the stadium as the end of the match was played out to whistling and boos.
“It was a very tough decision, of course,” Nishino said. “We conceded a goal, but with the time passing the other match moved [when Colombia took the lead]. When I put on [Makoto] Hasebe [in the 82nd minute] I told him what was in my mind: ‘Do not go for any high risks.’ I told him not to concede any yellow cards, go 4-1-4-1, defensive, and then I told him to tell the team to ‘stay put’. We could not concede another goal. So with the time passing it was my decision to stay put, and then when I used Hasebe it was the ultimate message,” the Japan coach was quoted as saying by The Guardian.
“I’m not too happy about this but I forced my players to do what I said. We did not go for victory, but we just relied on the other match. I view that it was slightly regrettable but I suppose at that point that I didn’t have any other plans. The World Cup is such that these things happen. And we went through. Therefore it was perhaps the right decision,” Nishino concluded.