Senegal's pain, Japan's gain

Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima greeting his son Kensei in the stands after the final whistle.
Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima greeting his son Kensei in the stands after the final whistle.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Samurai Blue first team to qualify for last 16 on fair play record as Colombia top Group H

GROUP H

Senegal 0 Colombia 1

Japan 0 Poland 1

VOLGOGRAD • Japan became the only Asian side to progress to the World Cup's last 16 yesterday, squeezing through despite losing 1-0 to an already-eliminated Poland thanks to their lower tally of yellow cards, which meant Senegal went out.

The Samurai Blue needed a draw to be sure of advancing to the knockout rounds after they beat Colombia and drew with Senegal in the previous two games, reversing low expectations at the start of the tournament.

Yet they still progressed in second place in Group H on account of having fewer yellow cards than Senegal, who were level on points, goal difference and goals scored with Japan, after the Africans lost 1-0 to Colombia in the other game.

Japan had four players booked while Senegal had six yellows in their three games. It was the first time in World Cup history that two teams had been separated by the number of yellow cards they had accrued in the tournament. Akira Nishino's men will face either England or Belgium in the last 16.

The match at the Volgograd Arena was often lethargic anyway in the 36 deg C heat, but the stupor was broken in the 59th minute when Poland's Rafal Kurzawa floated a free kick to the far post and an unmarked Jan Bednarek scored from close range.

The final minutes were played out in farcical circumstances with both sets of players content to let the ball circulate in the Japan half.

A cacophony of boos rang out as hardly any tackles were made in the last 10 minutes as Poland decided any sort of win would be enough and Japan decided not to risk any yellow cards.

Former Republic of Ireland international and BBC pundit Mark Lawrenson was unimpressed by how the game petered out.

"It was a very poor game first of all, and turned into a farce," the former Liverpool defender said.

"There has to be a better way of settling a table in the World Cup. Bookings? No, sorry."

If the teams were level on disciplinary points, the side that progressed would have been determined by the drawing of lots by the Fifa organising committee.

In Samara, Colombia's Yerry Mina thumped home a second-half header to secure a dramatic victory, which was marred by an injury to playmaker James Rodriguez early on.

Defeat for Senegal saw them exit at the group stage in their first World Cup appearance since 2002, and left Africa without a representative in the knockout stages.

Senegal coach Aliou Cisse said: "I am very proud of my team today and I'm proud of their work. But Senegal have not qualified because we did not deserve to qualify. Such is life.

"Fair play points are one of the rules and these rules have been established in the tournament regulations; we have to respect that. We would have preferred to be eliminated in another way, but that's the way it works and we knew that those were the regulations."

Senegal had looked on course to qualify until the 74th minute when Mina rose to meet a corner and sent a bullet header into the net.

It was a crushing blow to the Senegalese who had been the better side for most of the game and had a penalty award overturned in the first half after a VAR review.

They had looked set to take the lead in the 17th minute when Liverpool forward Sadio Mane went down in the area under a challenge from Davinson Sanchez and referee Milorad Mazic pointed to the spot.

The VAR system has not been universally acclaimed at this tournament, but television replays appeared to show Sanchez get his heel on the ball, before clattering into Mane and, after reviewing his original decision, Mazic agreed.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2018, with the headline 'Senegal's pain, Japan's gain'. Print Edition | Subscribe