VOLGOGRAD, Russia (Reuters) - Japan coach Akira Nishino knew he was taking a big gamble in the World Cup on Thursday when he ordered his team to settle for a 1-0 loss to eliminated Poland, and he prayed that Senegal would not snatch the Samurai Blue’s spot in the last 16.
The Volgograd Arena rang with boos from supporters as Japanese players passed the ball tamely among themselves in the final minutes of the closing Group H game and Poland, happy with consolation points, chose not to chase them down.
The high-risk strategy could easily have gone wrong for Japan had Senegal equalized against Colombia in Samara.
In the end, the Africans lost 1-0 to the South Americans and went out by the narrowest of margins to second-placed Japan - a higher yellow card count after finishing level on points, goal difference and the number of goals scored.
“We did not go for victory but we just relied on the other match,” Nishino told reporters. “That was slightly regrettable but I suppose at that point I didn’t have any other plans.
“I am really not happy about how we played today but...we wanted to go through to the round of 16 and we have, and that is the only salvation that I get.”
Nishino said he passed on clear instructions to the rest of the team when he sent on midfielder Makoto Hasebe as a second-half substitute - no risks and no yellow cards.
“What if we conceded another goal and it was 0-2?” he said. “We went through. Therefore perhaps it was the right decision.”
He said he wanted Japan to be “more free and attacking in the next match” which will be against England or Belgium who play later on Thursday in Group G.
“They are both world-class teams,” he said. “It’s a great challenge for us to be faced against them...I’d like to play both of them because they will pose a fantastic challenge for us.”
Writing by William Schomberg, editing by Ed Osmond