Japan coach Akira Nishino admitted he was not happy with his own negative tactics after a 1-0 defeat to Poland which still proved enough to sneak the Blue Samurai through to the last 16 of the World Cup.
Jan Bednarek scored the only goal of the game for the already-eliminated Poles but Nishino knew a Colombia victory over Senegal would send his side through thanks to a better disciplinary record as long as the goal difference remained the same.
Nishino initiated a bizarre and high-risk strategy for the final quarter-hour of the match as he ordered his players to keep passing the ball around in defence in order to avoid the possibility of conceding a crucial second goal, or picking up any bookings.
Nishino told a press conference: “It was a very tough decision but I decided I wanted to keep the status quo and make sure a change was not going to take place on our pitch.
“It was not intentional to stay trailing in the match because we were relying on the other match and it was a very risky situation. The message I sent out to the pitch was to stay put and the players listened to me.”
Nishino’s high-risk tactics paid off despite an anxious wait at the final whistle for the result of the match between Colombia and Senegal to be confirmed – and it means Japan are through to the last 16 for only the third time.
“I suppose it was a little bit regrettable but this is the World Cup and sometimes this happens,” added Nishino. “In the end we went through so it proved the right decision.”
Poland boss Adam Nawalka said his players proved a point by coming out to win despite defeats to Colombia and Senegal having already seen them exit the competition.
Bednarek’s goal gave his side a deserved win and it could have been two – which would have eliminated Japan – if star striker Robert Lewandowski had not missed a glorious second-half chance.
Nawalka said: “After our first two matches we somehow had to deal with a lot of justified criticism and that is why it was clear the emotional level of this game was really high.
“We had two unsuccessful games in which our hopes were not realised, and this is why it was a very important match, to prove that the Polish team will fight to the very end and bring a little bit of joy to our fans.
“This will not sweeten our losses or the results of those two matches, but we have to say we have accumulated a lot of experience at this World Cup and we have plans and ambitions and I think we will go forward.”