In what ought to have been a moment of triumph for Japan's national team, the head coach Akira Nishino has come under scrutiny for the liberties he took with his side's qualification hopes, and the methods he employed in the closing minutes of their tie with Poland to ensure a place in the last-16 for his side.
Coming into this afternoon's games sitting atop Group H, anything other than a defeat to Poland would have guaranteed Japan their place in the next round. After disappointing defeats to Senegal and Colombia, Poland didn't appear too daunting a task for the hitherto undefeated Japan.
Rotating his squad ahead of their final group tie, Nishino's Japan never truly found their rhythm against a Poland side playing with a greater degree of freedom, however, and fell behind early on in the second-half. With Colombia leading Senegal 1-0 in the group's other tie, defeat nevertheless wouldn't have been decisive for Japan.
However, inseparable on points, goal difference and goals scored, Japan's grasp on second-place in Group H came down to a marginally better disciplinary record than Senegal. With Aliou Cissé's men throwing all they could at Colombia in the group's other tie, Nishino, speaking after his side's eventual defeat, explained the instructions he passed on to his played in those closing minutes:
It was just the situation that forced me to make the decision and we did not go for the offence. And my decision was to rely on the other match. I’m not too happy about this but I forced my players to do what I said.
When I put on Hasebe 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'.
Ultimately coming out on the right side of the result, there was a good deal of animosity for Japan's late cynicism. Widely regarded as an unsatisfying way of deciding qualification, the farcical nature of Japan's willingness to do nothing at all, completely relying, as Nishino alluded to; "the other match."
With Senegal doing all they could to resurrect their own World Cup hopes, Japan attempted to see out what time remained; an approach that brought about a negative response within the stadium, and one that Nishino acknowledged:
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... They were booing in the stadium and I’m sure the players heard that.
Sure to have won no fans after this latest display, starting the tournament in a positive light, Japan will now enter the last-16 short of friends.
Credit to Stuart Jones for quotations.