Ja­pan booed off af­ter loss but reach last 16

Afro Voice (National Edition) - - Afro Sport -

JA­PAN qual­i­fied for the last 16 of the World Cup yes­ter­day de­spite los­ing 1­0 to Poland but both teams were booed from the pitch in Vol­gograd af­ter a far­ci­cal end to their fi­nal Group H match.

The Blue Sa­mu­rai went through by the slimmest of mar­gins, their fair play record, af­ter the last 10 min­utes were played out like a train­ing match as both sides set­tled for the re­sult.

Ja­pan will meet ei­ther Bel­gium or Eng­land af­ter reach­ing the knock­out stage for the third time in their his­tory.

When Jan Bednarek scored his first in­ter­na­tional goal in the 60th minute for al­ready elim­i­nated Poland, the score be­tween Colom­bia and Sene­gal stood at 0­0, mean­ing Ja­pan were go­ing out.

But once news fil­tered through of Yerry Mina’s 74th­minute goal for Colom­bia the match changed for the worse.

The strike meant Colom­bia would win the group and Ja­pan were ahead of Sene­gal de­spite iden­ti­cal points, goal dif­fer­ence and goals scored, be­cause they had re­ceived fewer yel­low cards.

A ca­coph­ony of boos rang out as hardly a sin­gle tackle was made in the last 10 min­utes as Poland de­cided any sort of win would be enough and Ja­pan de­cided not to risk any yel­low cards.

Ja­pan coach Akira Nishino made six changes in­clud­ing bring­ing in at­tack­ing pair Shinji Okazaki and Yoshi­nori Muto for his World Cup de­but.

And it was they who fash­ioned the first real open­ing in the 12th minute of a game played at se­date pace in 36°C tem­per­a­tures.

Bednarek played a blind pass across his penalty area straight to Muto who shifted it to Yuto Na­gatomo mo­tor­ing down the left flank.

His whipped cross was met by a div­ing Okazaki header which flashed wide.

Mo­ments later Muto won pos­ses­sion again out­side the box and his fierce shot was par­ried out of harm’s way by goal­keeper Lukasz Fabi­an­ski, one of five changes in Poland’s start­ing line­up.

The Pol­ish cap­tain Robert Le­wandowski is renowned as a world­class goal scorer for Bay­ern Mu­nich but, as in the rest of Poland’s sorry World Cup cam­paign, he was see­ing lit­tle of the ball.

Goal­keeper Eiji Kawashima kept his place for Ja­pan de­spite a howler for Sene­gal’s first goal in the 2­2 draw and re­paid Nishino’s faith with a won­drous save to keep the score goal­less at half­time.

Piotr Zielin­ski crossed from the right and Kamil Grosicki found him­self un­marked near the penalty.

His clev­erly di­rected header looked des­tined for the bot­tom cor­ner un­til Kawashima made up huge amounts of ground to claw it to safety with a right hand at full stretch.

Goalline tech­nol­ogy con­firmed he had kept it out by less than half the width of the ball.

Kawashima did have to pick the ball out of his net on the hour mark as Bed­narak got on the end of a long Rafal Kurzawa free­kick to vol­ley home. – AFP

Shinji Okazaki

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