Jan Bednarek (3rd L) of Poland scores a goal during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Group H match between Japan and Poland in Volgograd, Russia, June 28, 2018. (Xinhua/Yang Lei)
MOSCOW, June 28 (Xinhua) -- Japan lost their final Group H game 1-0 to Poland in Volgograd on Thursday but qualified for the last 16 of the World Cup on fair play rules due to Senegal's 1-0 defeat to Colombia.
It is ironic that Japan should qualify on fair play, because fair play is the last thing the side which have won hearts here in Russia showed in a final 10 minutes when both sides accepted the result and renounced all attempts to attack their rivals, with Poland happy to see their first win in the final phase and Japan trusting Colombia would hold on for a win which puts them into the knockout phase for the second time in eight years.
Despite the importance of the game Japan coach Akira Nishino made six changes to his starting 11 after repeating the same team for the first two matches, while Lukasz Fabianski and Kamil Grosicki were in the Polish side.
Grosicki's pace almost created a chance for Robert Lewandowski in the 5th minute, but the striker's touch let him down in the Japan penalty area.
Japan took time to get into the game, but Shinji Okazaki headed wide in the 12th minute, Yoshinori Muto produced a smart save from Fabianski a minute later and Maya Yoshida also worked the keeper from the edge of the area.
Japan were leaving spaces in midfield and were almost punished in the 32nd minute when Grosicki's header drew a good save from Eiji Kawashima in the Japan goal, although Japan responded quickly as Takashi Usami drew another stop from Fabianski.
There was a setback for the Japanese at the start of the second half when Okazaki had to be replaced by Yuya Osako after less than two minutes with what looked like a muscle problem, but Japan retained their attacking 4-4-2 formation with both wide midfielders pushing forward, almost allowing Grosicki and Lewandowski to combine in the 54th minute.
The game again settled into a pattern with Japan looking to attack, but never quite in control and were punished just before the hour when Jan Bednarek side-footed home a free kick from close range, getting the better of his Southampton teammate Yoshida in the process.
With Japan now needing a goal to qualify for the next round Takashi Inui replaced Usami, but they should have fallen 2 behind when Lewandowski fired another Grosicki ball over in the 74th minute and the Hull City winger almost forced Tomashi Makino to concede an own goal with another dangerous cross.
News of Colombia's goal against Senegal clearly filtered through and with the result in the other Group H game meaning Japan would qualify through having fewer yellow cards than their rivals both sides appeared to draw a footballing truce for what was frankly an embarrassing last 10 minutes in which neither tried to score.