The result saw the ‘Samurai Blue’ advance to the last 16 on the narrowest margin: they finished with exactly the same record as Senegal – who lost 1-0 to group winners Colombia – but qualified at the expense of the African team on fair play points.
Poland wrapped up their 2018 World Cup campaign with a 1-0 win over Japan in a Group H clash at the Volgograd Arena on Thursday afternoon
As a result, all five CAF representatives have been knocked out and Africa has no teams in the second round of a World Cup for the first time since 1982.
Japan asserted themselves early on in the match and had two good opportunities to claim the lead inside the opening quarter hour. The first arrived on 12 minutes when Shinji Okazaki got ahead of his marker to meet a left-flank cross, but he sent his header wide of the near post.
Just a minute later Yoshinori Muto picked up a pass on the edge of the box and got away a fine right-footed effort which forced Poland goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski to make a sharp save low to his right.
Poland offered relatively little threat through the first half, though they almost took the lead just after the half-hour mark: Kamil Grosicki’s header looked destined for the back of the net, but Eiji Kawashima clawed the ball away in a superb save.
The European side claimed the lead on the hour mark, with defender Jan Bednarek arriving late at the far post to meet Rafal Kurzawa’s free kick and drive home a shot from close range.
Fourteen minutes later the ‘White Eagles’ should have doubled their advantage, with Kamil Grosicki’s low cross picking out Robert Lewandowski, but the striker put his effort over the target.
With news of Senegal trailing 1-0 against Colombia coming through, Japan were caught in the nervous position of trying to find an equaliser (to take their fare completely in their own hands) while trying to avoid the further concession of a goal (which would see the African side moved ahead of them on the log).
In the end, the ‘Samurai Blue’ settled for the 1-0 loss and waited for the final score from Samara – when it was confirmed that Colombia had beaten the ‘Teranga Lions’ 1-0, Japan knew they had advanced on no more than a technicality.
Poland (0) 1 (Bednarek 60’)
Japan: Kawashima, H. Sakai, Yoshida, Makino, Nagamoto, Yamaguchi, Shibasaki, G. Sakai, Okazaki (Osako 47’), Usami (Inui 65’), Muto (Hasebe 82’)
Poland: Fabianski, Bereszynski, Glik, Bednarek, Kurzawa (Peszko 80’), Krychowiak, Goralski, Jedrzejczyk, Zielinski (Teodorczyk 79’), Lewandwoski, Grosicki