Japan reach World Cup last 16 courtesy of their fair play record

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Japan booked their place in the World Cup knockout stages amid farcical scenes in Volgograd despite falling to a 1-0 defeat against already-eliminated Poland.

Jan Bednarek fired the only goal in the 59th minute but the scoreline in the other Group H game between Colombia and Senegal meant the Japanese were still set to go through by virtue of a better fair play record than the latter.

The final 20 minutes of the match was played out by Japanese defenders stroking uncontested passes, with Poland clearly content to head home with their first and only victory in the bag.

Japanese fans celebrated their progression (Andrew Medichini/AP)

The final whistle brought an end to a bizarre afternoon which began with Japan coach Akira Nishino making six changes despite knowing his side’s qualification was far from certain.

Russia Soccer WCup Japan Poland
Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima kept his side’s hopes alive (Themba Hadebe/AP)

Japan had the better of a tepid and forgettable first period, with Leicester’s Shinji Okazaki flashing a diving header just wide in the 12 minute from a Yuto Nagatomo cross.

Poland struggled to make any kind of impression, with star striker Robert Lewandowski starved of service up front as the Japanese continued to make the running.

Russia Soccer WCup Japan Poland
Jan Bednarek scored the only goal of the game (Eugene Hoshiko/AP)

Kawashima got down low to scoop away Bereszynski’s header, with goal-line technology proving the ball had only partially crossed the line.

But the group leaders still had most of what passed for the momentum, and Takashi Usami struck a fine effort in the 52nd minute which was vitally blocked by Kamil Glik in the box.

Poland immediately countered and once again gave the Japanese cause for concern with Kamil Grosicki crossing from the right and Kawashima just reaching the ball before the lurking Piotr Zielinski.

All Japan’s good work was undone in the 59th minute when Rafal Kurzawa lofted a free-kick into the Japan box and with the defenders standing off him, Bednarek pounced to give Poland the lead.

Japan seemed shell-shocked by the effort and almost conceded a second in the 74th minute when Lewandowski miscued from a Grosicki cross in front of goal.

But with news of the other game in Samara clearly getting through to the Japanese bench, Nishino urged his side to ease off and risk holding out for the 1-0 defeat which ultimately proved just enough to see them through.

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