Japan are into the World Cup knockout stages despite their 0-1 defeat to Poland after Colombia’s victory over Senegal in Samara meant they finished second in Group H on the same goal difference as the African country but with a better disciplinary record by two yellow cards.
They had been holding on for the point they needed to secure progression to knockout stages after a forgettable first half against Poland in Volgograd. The already-eliminated Poland had the best chance when Bartosz Bereszynski brought a stretching save out of the Japan keeper Eiji Kawashima in the 32nd minute.
Otherwise Poland scarcely looked up for the fight and at the half-time whistle Akira Nishino’s side stood 45 minutes away from the last 16.
But Poland took the lead out of nowhere just before the hour mark when the Southampton defender Jan Bednarek fired home. Rafal Kurzawa lofted a free-kick into the box where Bednarek evaded the Japan defenders to volley home his first international goal.
The goal left Japan suddenly facing the prospect of elimination from the tournament depending on results elsewhere. But Yerry Mina’s winning goal for Colombia and Japan’s better disciplinary record sealed their qualification at Senegal’s expense.
In extraordinary scenes, Japan played out the last few minutes of the match by passing the ball around the back, avoiding conceding possession and not making challenges while Poland stood off them and allowed them to do it, safe in the knowledge that they would leave the World Cup with a win.