Japan took the back door into the World Cup round of 16 on Thursday, losing 1-0 to Poland but progressing due to a Colombia win over Senegal and the Federation Internationale de Football Association fair play points system favoring the Samurai Blue. Japanese coach Akira Nishino opted to not field the creative trio of Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda and Takashu Inui, instead selecting more defensive-minded players in the knowledge that, so long as they avoided a loss, their place in the last 16 was assured.
Japan ended the first round level on points and goal difference with Senegal, but with two fewer yellow cards it is the Blue Samurai that go on to meet either England or Belgium in the last 16, while Senegal head home. Japan had four yellow cards in its three group matches while Senegal had six.
Jan Bednarek scored the only goal of the game for the already-eliminated Poles a minute before the hour mark to condemn Japan to their first defeat of the campaign, in what proved to be a woeful display from the Asian side.
They were heading out when Bednarek scored, and Southampton's Maya Yoshida headed just wide on 72 minutes as they pushed for an equaliser.
If Japan can put in a similar showing against a struggling Poland, they have an excellent chance of at least securing the point they need.
Japan have kept just one clean sheet since the end of August a year ago and that was against North Korea in December, so it's clear they can be got at-Lewandowski may have more joy here than in previous matches.
The outcome saves Japan manager Akira Nishino from at least some questions about his risky decision to start the game with a team showing six changes to the one that performed well in a gutsy 2-2 draw with Senegal in Ekaterinburg, and all four of his Russian Federation 2018 goalscorers on the bench.
Senegal, who had most of the better play in the first half, thought they had a penalty when Sadio Mane went down in the area on 17 minutes.
Going within inches of crossing the line entirely, Kawashima was the undisiputed hero of the piece here.
NBCSN, the exclusive US cable TV home of the Premier League, will simulcast in Spanish the FIFA World Cup match between England and Belgium this Thursday, June 28, with live coverage beginning at 1:30 p.m. ET from Kaliningrad Stadium in Kaliningrad.