This week’s featured article
Nice guys don’t necessarily finish last at the World Cup.
Fair play, a newly implemented tiebreaker in the group stage of the world’s biggest soccer tournament, was put into use for the first time Thursday and Japan came out as the beneficiary.
Despite losing 1-0 to Poland, the Japanese were able to advance to the round of 16 because they received fewer yellow cards than Senegal, which lost to Colombia by the same score at the same time.
Once Colombia had scored in Samara, Japan knew it had done enough to advance even though it was losing late in its match. The Japanese players slowed play down to almost nothing, softly passing the ball back and forth in little triangles in their own end to waste time.
“My decision was to rely on the other match,” Japan coach Akira Nishino said. “I’m not too happy about this but … I forced my players to do what I said. And we went through.”
The fans at the Volgograd Arena showed their displeasure by booing and whistling loudly over the final minutes.
Both Japan and Senegal finished the group phase with four points, had the same goal difference and the same amount of goals scored. Starting at this year’s tournament, disciplinary records — known as fair play — were added by FIFA as a tiebreaker. Japan had four yellow cards in its three group matches while Senegal had six.
Overall, Japan committed only 28 fouls in three group matches, among the fewest in the tournament. Senegal committed 44.
Poland, which had already been eliminated, got its goal from defender Jan Bednarek in the 59th minute. When Bednarek scored, Japan was facing elimination. However, Colombia’s goal in the 74th minute of the other group match meant Japan was in second place and would advance.
As the game continued, it barely got above walking pace.
Nishino made six changes to the starting lineup ahead of the match, saying some of his players were fatigued. All four of Japan’s scorers in the previous two games were left on the bench, but the Japanese still had more of the chances in the first half.
Senegal has become the first victim of the new tiebreaker.
“I don’t know if the regulation is cruel or not, but I can’t ask my players to go on the pitch in order to avoid yellow cards,” Senegal coach Aliou Cisse said. “You have to be in contact with other players when you play football. This is how you play football. It worked against us.”
First published in The Japan Times on June 30.
One-minute chat about fairness.
Collect words related to competition, e.g., win, game, strategy.
1) implement: to put into action, e.g., “The rule will be implemented soon.”
2) fatigued: to be exhausted, e.g., “They were fatigued after the game.”
Guess the headline
Def_ _ _ed Japan squeezes into World Cup last 16 thanks to f_ _ _ play
1) What is the new tiebreaker measure?
2) Why did the Japan team slow down the game with Poland?
3) Who ended the group stage with the same number of points as Japan?
Let’s discuss the article
1) Were you excited when Japan progressed from the group and into the last 16?
2) What do you think about the game between Japan and Poland?
3) What do you make of the new tiebreaker measure?