Japan 0-1 Poland: 5 things we learned

Japan progressed into the last 16, where they will play Belgium, despite losing to Poland.


Japan are through but they did it in the most unconvincing, unimpressive circumstances. Poland, who were playing simply to avoid ending with zero points, scored through Jan Bednarek just before the hour and from there the game died as a contest.

Japan were content to keep the score at 1-0, with Senegal losing by the same scoreline to Colombia. It was a risky tactic: had Senegal equalised in the other game Japan would have been eliminated.

Neutrals were not impressed by Japan’s reluctance to attack, or Poland’s acceptance of it. But it worked. Cynical though it was, Japan are now into the knockout stages at the expense of Senegal.

It was made more controversial by the way in which second place was decided: Japan and Senegal were matched on goal difference and goals scored, so fair play was used to determine which team would progress. Japan had two fewer yellow cards.

It was a game made memorable for what did not happen, rather than what did, but here are five things we learned from Japan’s defeat to Poland. 

  1. 1 Group permutations kill the contest

    Reuters/JORGE SILVA

    The final ten minutes of this game were, as Mark Lawrenson put it on commentary for the BBC, a "farce". Japan passed the ball between themselves in their own half while Poland stood off.

    The current format of the World Cup, in many ways, encourages such dull matches in the final round of the groups. 

    Teams know the permutations required to go through, they know the score in the other game, and they are able to take an approach with minimal risks. 

    It does not lend itself to entertainment. Nor has deciding the position in groups on fair play proved popular. There was a sense of injustice surrounding Japan's progression and Senegal's exit.

    This was not the only game in the final round of the groups to lack any sense of intensity. 

    Denmark and France played out a turgid goalless draw in the knowledge that they would both qualify. And England and Belgium, because of the lack of incentive to finish top, was a game between two sides who appeared not to want to win.

    "We did not go for victory but we just relied on the other match," said Akira Nishino, Japan's manager. "That was slightly regrettable but I suppose at that point I didn't have any other plans.

    "I am really not happy about how we played, but we wanted to go through to the round of 16 and we have, and that is the only salvation that I get."

  2. 2 Poland exit on a high

    Reuters/JORGE SILVA

    It had been a dismal tournament for Poland, who had lost to Senegal in their opener and then been heavily beaten by Colombia. 

    There had been high expectations ahead of the competition tournament after an impressive qualification. And those expectations were heightened when Poland were drawn in what appeared to be a navigable group. 

    But Poland were disappointing. All that was left to play for was avoiding the humiliation of three defeats. Against Japan, they did that. Poland were the better side and might have won by more had Robert Lewandowski converted an opportunity in the second half.

    The final ten minutes were a procession, but Poland were deserving winners nonetheless. Adam Nawalka and his players will be feeling a tinge of relief amid the disappointment.

  3. 3 Japan could struggle against Belgium

    Reuters/JORGE SILVA

    Japan should be praised for reaching the last 16 - although the manner in which they did it has not made them many friends. They impressed in beating Colombia and did well to draw against a strong Senegal side.

    But the Poland defeat suggested that Japan could struggle when the stakes are higher, and when they meet significantly better opposition. Belgium have been prolific so far and could exploit Japan's defensive vulnerabilities when the two meet in Rostov-on-Don on Monday.

    Japan will know that an improvement is needed on their display against Poland. They will not be able to pass the ball around in defence without consequence in this one.

  4. 4 Poor tournament for Lewandowski

    Reuters/JORGE SILVA

    Robert Lewandowski was tipped by some to win the golden boot but he did not score a single goal at this World Cup. 

    He cannot solely take the blame for his side's poor performances, Poland are way too reliant on him and have been for a long time, but he did not hit the standards expected. Lewandowski appeared disinterested, frustrated by the limitations of his teammates.

    The Bayern Munich forward scored 49 goals in 54 games prior to the World Cup. He scored 16 goals in qualification for Poland. He is a prolific forward, but he has, once again, been unable to take his form into a major international tournament.

    “I was alone," he said after the Colombia defeat. 

    "I did everything I could.” Clearly, it wasn't enough.

  5. 5 Nishino not afraid to rotate

    Reuters/TORU HANAI

    Nishino, Japan's coach, can be accused of many things after this game, but indecisiveness is not one of them. Much of his gameplan was reliant on Colombia beating Senegal, and in that sense, Japan were fortunate.

    Nishino, though, clearly did not feel a result was necessary. He made changes to his team, leaving out key players Shinji Kagawa, Makoto Hasebe, and Takashi Inui.

    That could now prove beneficial although it appeared an odd decision prior to the game. Japan might well have been eliminated, and they have now lost any momentum ahead of the last 16. 

    What did you make of Japan's gameplan? Let us know in the comments below.

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