Japan will face Group G’s winner, either Belgium or England, in the round of 16 on Monday in Rostov-on-Don. This is the third time in the past five World Cups that Japan has reached the knockout phase.
Boos and whistles rained down for the last 10 minutes or so as Japan played it safe, hoping the scores of both matches would hold. It was ugly but effective.
Thanks to Japan’s Eiji Kawashima, who made one of the best saves of the tournament, Japan and Poland start the second half in a 0-0 tie in Volgograd.
Part of the ball touched the plane of the goal line in the 31st minute, but Kawashima was up to the task of stopping the shot by Kamil Grosicki, who had begun his celebration only to have his expression turn to disappointment as goal-line technology helped save the day for Japan.
He added another nifty play early in the second half, reading a play on which Robert Lewandowski was about to bear down on him one-on-one.
Right out of the gate, Japan put a scare into Poland with goaltender Lukasz Fabianski racing to the edge of the penalty area to beat Takashi Usami to the ball on a long shot in the first minute. Japan kept the pressure on Fabianski but couldn’t find the net.
Japan can advance with a win or a draw, but its players are thinking bigger — much bigger — on the final day of the group stage. “I don’t think we can enter the match looking for a draw and to get the results we want,” captain Makoto Hasebe said. “Although we earned four points in two matches, we haven’t accomplished anything yet.”
Poland, the first European country eliminated from the World Cup after its loss to Colombia, is headed home after Thursday’s game despite being the group’s highest-ranked team entering the tournament.
Japan has altered its lineup in a nod to the heat (temperatures are in the high 90s at the start) and humidity in Volgograd. However, Eiji Kawashima remains in goal.
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Japan (1-1-0, 4 points)
- Previous results: defeated Colombia, 2-1; drew with Senegal, 2-2.
- What’s at stake: A point would guarantee Japan’s spot in the next round.
- Notable: In two previous World Cup matches with Poland, Japan has scored seven goals while giving up none.
- FIFA world ranking: 61. ELO world ranking: 32.
Poland (0-0-2, 0 points)
- Previous results: lost to Senegal, 2-1; lost to Colombia, 3-0.
- What’s at stake: Nothing. Poland has been eliminated from knockout-round contention, despite being the group’s highest-ranked team entering the tournament.
- Notable: Poland hopes to avoid losing all three of its World Cup games for the first time.
- FIFA world ranking: 8. ELO world ranking: 25.
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