Published: Sun, July 01, 2018
Sports | By Sarah Myers

Japan coach wary of Lewandowski -- and Volgograd heat

Japan coach wary of Lewandowski -- and Volgograd heat

Conditions and context conspired to rob Volgograd of a fitting end to its World Cup hosting duties on Thursday, as the final match to be played in the city saw Japan advance to the round of 16 despite losing to eliminated Poland.

Though Japan ran the risk of a late Senegal equaliser against Colombia dumping them out of the World Cup, they were able to narrowly scrape into the knockout stages and will now face either England or Belgium in the round of 16.

In the end, the Africans lost 1-0 to the South Americans and went out by the narrowest of margins to second-placed Japan - a higher yellow card count after finishing level on points, goal difference and the number of goals scored.

Japan, of course, will be toasting the system, and they were more than happy to exploit it on field after learning of Yerry Mina's second-half victor for Colombia in the Senegal match, which set up the "fair play" tiebreaker.

Poland seemed utterly toothless, but still managed to take the lead through Jan Bednarek's volley from eight yards on a Rafal Kurzawa free kick floated over the top.

Poland immediately countered and once again gave the Japanese cause for concern with Kamil Grosicki crossing from the right and Kawashima just reaching the ball before the lurking Piotr Zielinski. Japan players spent the last minutes of the game passing each other the ball on their own side of the pitch with the crowd booing them.

He said he was not surprised by Japan's form in Russian Federation, which has taken many football fans by surprise, saying several Japanese squad members played for leading European teams. "There has to be a better way of settling the table in the World Cup than bookings".

As the news filtered through to the Volgograd Arena, both teams were content to sit back. The last time they scored against European opponents was in a 3-1 win over Denmark in 2010. There was nothing else to choose between the two teams after three matches in Group G, but the Samurai Blue did not do themselves any favours in their final first-round outing.

Fair play, a newly implemented tiebreaker in the group stage of the world's biggest soccer tournament, was put into use for the first time Thursday and Japan came out as the beneficiary.

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"We might have given our best to come through the group stage, but we have not given everything".

Japan seemed shell-shocked by the effort and nearly conceded a second in the 74th minute when Lewandowski miscued from a Grosicki cross in front of goal.

Colombia know a win in Samara will see them progress to the last 16.

Belgium did collect the three points, beating England 1-0, and secured first place in the group on Adnan Januzaj's curling shot.

Japan faces Group G victor Belgium on Monday in Rostov-on-Don.

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