Japan finished second in Group H behind Colombia (Reuters Photo)
Japan became the first team to qualify for the round of 16 of the World Cup with the help of ‘Fair Play’ regulations on Thursday.
The Asian side trumped Senegal, who also had four points from three games in Group H, because of one yellow card less conceded.
Japan committed the least number of fouls in the group stages with 28 and were shown only five yellow cards while the Senegalese saw six from three games and committed 44 fouls.
Japan and Senegal started on top of their group before the last round of fixtures in the group stages with four points from two games and same goal difference.
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They were both handed out 1-0 draws by Poland and Colombia respectively and therefore, there was no movement in the standings. With the match between the two teams ending in a 2-2 draw as well, the only deciding factor was ‘Fair Play’ and the Blue Samurais trumped the Senegalese because of their better disciplinary record.
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A draw for both the sides today would have ensured their qualification for the next round but neither of the teams could score or stop their opponents from scoring.
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Once Colombia had scored in Samara, Japan knew it had done enough to advance even though it was losing late in its match. The Japanese players slowed play down to almost nothing, softly passing the ball back and forth in little triangles in their own end to waste time.
“My decision was to rely on the other match,” Japan coach Akira Nishino said. “I’m not too happy about this but…I forced my players to do what I said. And we went through.
“It was an ultimate decision for me to make. We did not go through with victory, but we just relied on the other match and I feel that it was slightly regrettable but I suppose at that point I didn’t have any other plans.”
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The fans at the Volgograd Arena showed their displeasure by booing and whistling loudly over the final minutes. Poland, happy to get a victory after two losses, did little to pressure the opposing side.
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Speaking about the rule and their elimination, Senegal coach Aliou Cisse said: “I don’t know if the regulation is cruel or not, but I can’t ask my players to go on the pitch in order to avoid yellow cards. You have to be in contact with other players when you play football. This is how you play football. It worked against us.”