Japan coach Akira Nishino said he didn’t intend to settle for a 1-0 defeat to Poland that saw his team nevertheless advance to the World Cup round of 16, calling his reliance on their fair play fortune “a very tough and risky situation.”
Jeers rained down on Japan in Volgograd as they spent most of the second half controlling the ball in their own half as they knew the results would see them through as group runners-up at the expense of Senegal, who lost out because of the disciplinary record tiebreaker.
With two fewer yellow cards, Japan’s tally was better than Senegal, and though Nishino acknowledged his regrets in his postmatch news conference about the manner of Japan’s progression, he did not apologise for the game’s lifeless conclusion.
“I decided that I was going to rely on the other match’s result,” Nishino told reporters. “We were not happy about the situation of course. It was not intentional.
“It was not our intention to stay trailing in the match and rely on the other match’s result. However, it was a very tough and risky situation.”
The high-risk strategy could easily have gone wrong for Japan had Senegal equalised against Colombia in Samara.
“I am really not happy about how we played today,” he said. “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 Belgium.
But speaking before Belgium’s 1-0 win over England, Nishino said he didn’t have a preference on which team his side faced.
“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.”