Japan Advance to 2018 World Cup Knockout Stage Despite 1-0 Loss to Poland

Gill Clark@@gillclarkyFeatured Columnist IJune 28, 2018

VOLGOGRAD, RUSSIA - JUNE 28:  Maya Yoshida of Japan reacts during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group H match between Japan and Poland at Volgograd Arena on June 28, 2018 in Volgograd, Russia.  (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
Carl Court/Getty Images

Japan booked their place in the last 16 of the 2018 FIFA World Cup on Thursday despite a 1-0 defeat against already-eliminated Poland.  

The result means the Samurai Blue finish second in Group H and progress to the next round along with Colombia.


Lewandowski Doesn't Deserve Big Summer Move

Poland striker Robert Lewandowski leaves Russia without a goal at the World Cup and having failed to make any impact on the tournament.

Against Japan, he was starved of service and barely had a sniff for the entire 90 minutes. The one chance he did have he blazed over when well placed on 73 minutes.

Match of the Day highlighted his struggles:

Match of the Day @BBCMOTD

16 goals in 21 qualifiers. 21 goals in his last 17 #POL games. 0 goals in Russia. A disappointing #WorldCup for Robert Lewandowski. https://t.co/z7NdAkSdzh

Lewandowski could be on the move this summer, as his agent, Pini Zahavi, said before the World Cup he wants to leave Bayern Munich, per Sport Bild (h/t Mark Lovell at ESPN FC).

Real Madrid have been linked with a move for the striker with Karim Benzema potentially going the other way, per Kicker (h/t Marca).

Chelsea are also interested in the Pole, although they would be unable to offer UEFA Champions League football, per Goal's Nizaar Kinsella.

Lewandowski has been a prolific goalscorer in the Bundesliga for both Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich. However, there has been scrutiny on the striker after he struggled in the Champions League last season for the German giants.

Squawka Football showed his record:

Squawka Football @Squawka

Robert Lewandowski has failed to score in each of his last five Champions League games: ❌ vs. Besiktas ❌ vs. Sevilla ❌ vs. Sevilla ❌ vs. Real Madrid ❌ vs. Real Madrid 13 shots in total (unlucky for some). https://t.co/NaAxCezTIF

The striker has now followed that up with another poor showing at the World Cup, which will raise questions about his ability in major tournaments. Lewandowski will turn 30 in August, and his chances of a big summer move away from Bayern may have been diminished by his displays in Russia.


Japan Will Struggle in Round of 16

Japan went into the final round of Group H as table leaders but only just scraped their way into the last 16 after the defeat.

Dale Johnson at ESPN FC showed how qualification was determined:

Dale Johnson @DaleJohnsonESPN

AS IT STANDS Japan and Senegal now separated on yellow cards for second place! Japan have 4 yellow cards Senegal have 6 yellow cards #SENCOL #JPNPOL #WorldCup

Akira Nishino's side worked hard but lacked invention and an attacking threat against Poland in a display that suggested they will not make it past the last 16.

The team beat Colombia in their opening game, although it's worth remembering that Jose Pekerman's side played the majority of the match with 10 men after Carlos Sanchez was sent off after three minutes.

A 2-2 draw with Senegal followed, in which Japan showed their fighting qualities after twice coming from behind to salvage a point.

Japan will now go on to face either England or Belgium in the knockout stages, but on this evidence, their World Cup hopes may be over after their next match.


Kawashima Validates Place With Super Save

Japan opted to keep faith with goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima despite errors in his first two games against Colombia and Senegal.

The Samurai Blue were rewarded for their loyalty as the goalkeeper pulled off the save of the tournament on 32 minutes.

Kamil Grosicki met a cross into the box with a fine header that looked destined for the back of the net until Kawashima managed to claw it to safety. Goal-line technology showed how he had just saved it from crossing the line.

Former goalkeeper David James was impressed with the goalkeeper's heroics:

David James @jamosfoundation

Eiji Kawashima, what a save! #JAPPOL #WorldCup

It was a stunning save from Kawashima and will have boosted his confidence after a tough start to the tournament.


What's Next?

Japan will play either England or Belgium in the last 16 of the competition. The two teams play later on Thursday in a match that will decide which team finishes top in Group G. Poland's next fixture is in September when they face Italy in the UEFA Nations League.