Japan chief coach Akira Nishino admitted he had instructed his footballers to accept a 0-1 defeat to Poland in the closing minutes of their final Group H match of the FIFA World Cup in Volgograd on Thursday.
Although Japan lost to a 59th-minute goal scored by Jan Bednarek and were 'out' of the tournament for around 16 minutes, news of Yerry Mina's 74th-minute goal for Colombia against Senegal which saw Japan into the last 16 on fair play rules clearly filtered through. And the closing minutes saw both sides happy to pass the ball among themselves with no real efforts to win possession or to launch any attacks, reports Xinhua news agency.
"It was a tough decision to make as there was always a chance that Senegal would score, but I chose for us to stay put and to keep the status quo and make sure nothing happened on our pitch. I decided I'd rely on the result of the other game," said Nishino in his post-game press conference.
"I'm not too happy about this, but I told my players to do what I said," explained Nishino, adding that "these things happen in a World Cup. This kind of football does exist and it's the first time I have felt this way. It was a massive decision to make to get us out of the group stage," he continued.
The Japanese coach said it had been a "very tough situation" but with qualification in the balance, he asked, "what would have happened if we had conceded another goal?"
"My message on the pitch was to 'stay put' and the players listened to me, they were going to keep things as they were.
"It was slightly regrettable, but at that point, I didn't have any other plans," he admitted, before insisting Japan had "earned" the place in the next round.