Kamil Grosicki sat down in the middle of the field. There was less than a minute left in the game between Japan and Poland, and the Polish were looking for a stoppage. Leading 1-0, they didn’t really care about Japan’s seemingly bizarre decision to run down the clock rather than risk conceding a second goal that would knock them out of the World Cup. They only wanted a chance to bring former captain Jakub Błaszczykowski on for the final seconds of the match. So Grosicki just sat there, hoping to force an injury break so the change could be made. Referee Janny Sikazwe wasn’t convinced, forcing play to continue until Japan knocked the ball out, providing the stoppage Poland were hoping for. The final whistle was blown before Poland could throw it back in, closing out a mostly entertaining game in fairly anticlimactic circumstances. In the end, everyone left happy, with Poland claiming a consolation win to end their disappointing World Cup campaign and Japan holding onto a spot in the round of 16 based on their disciplinary record. It was a weird day.Embed from Getty Images
Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima dives at full stretch to save Kamil Grosicki’s header. Kawashima wasn’t too busy as Poland didn’t mount too many attacks, but he made some good stops.
Poland controlled possession early, but the Japanese were well organised and they were generally restricted to harmlessly passing the ball around in defence. They had some chances, with Grosicki forcing Eiji Kawashima to claw his well-directed header off the goal line, but they mostly kept the ball without really threatening the Japanese goal. Instead, it was Japan who had the better opportunities, putting Poland under some pressure with their attacks. Yoshinori Mutō intercepted a hesitant pass from Jan Bednarek, and Shinji Okazaki nearly headed home as a result. A few minutes later, Mutō had another opportunity, forcing Łukasz Fabiański into a diving save with a nice shot. Takashi Usami presented a threat, moving forward well and forcing a nice save from Fabiański with a dangerous ball across goal. Neither side really looked like scoring, however, and the half passed without anything more than a few chances.
Poland began to string some better play together just after half time, with Piotr Zieliński and Grosicki combining particularly dangerously and forcing Kawashima off his line to defuse the quick break. Then, just before the hour mark, they took the lead. Rafał Kurzawa floated a perfectly-weighted free-kick into the box, dropping it at the edge of the six-yard box. Unfortunately for Japan, Bednarek was the only man in a position to run onto it. The Polish centre-back was completely open, and Kawashima had no chance as he volleyed it powerfully into the back of the net. Japan fought hard, but they were struggling to make inroads against a solid defence led by Kamil Glik, and they were lucky not to go further behind when Polish star Robert Lewandowski was teed up by Grosicki on a well-worked break. If Lewandowski was at his best, it would have spelt the end for Japan’s campaign. Lewandowski has not been at his best, and he spooned it over the bar. Japan lived on, and they kept fighting to go level.Embed from Getty Images
Kamil Glik (right) and Jan Bednarek celebrate after Bednarek’s winning goal. Poland’s central defensive pairing had a big game, repelling Japan’s attack all day long.
Then, just as the game seemed set for a gripping final 10 minutes as Japan sought to equalise, the Japanese stopped pushing. With Colombia leading Senegal 1-0, and sending the Japanese through as a result, Akira Nishino decided to gamble. He decided to gamble Japan’s future on the result of the other game, choosing to settle for a 1-0 defeat and hoping that Colombia held on. Determined not to concede, Nishino’s men simply stopped playing attacking football, instead knocking the ball around their defence and refusing to cede possession. Poland, happy with their consolation victory, made no attempt to get the ball back, and they just watched as Tomoaki Makino, Maya Yoshida, Makoto Hasebe and Takashi Inui passed it around between themselves. Sikazwe awarded three minutes of injury time. In that time, Poland didn’t touch the ball, and they didn’t really care. They got their win, Japan got through, and everyone seemed fairly content.
Volgograd – Volgograd Arena
Poland 1 (Bednarek 59)
Referee: Janny Sikazwe (Zam)
Japan (4-2-3-1): Kawashima – H Sakai, Yoshida, Makino, Nagatomo; Yamaguchi, Shibasaki; G Sakai, Okazaki (Ōsako 47), Usami (Inui 65); Mutō (Hasebe 82).
Poland (3-4-3): Fabiański – Bereszyński, Glik, Bednarek; Kurzawa (Peszko 80), Krychowiak, Góralski, Jędrzejczyk; Zieliński (Teodorczyk 79), Lewandowski, Grosicki.
1. Kamil Glik (Poland)
If Glik was fully fit and available for Poland’s opening two fixtures, it’s quite possible the Polish wouldn’t have folded so meekly. Back in the starting line-up, he led Poland to a consolation victory with his solid defensive play. Every time a shot was blocked he seemed to be the man doing the blocking, and it’s no coincidence that Poland got their only win in the only game he played.
2. Kamil Grosicki (Poland)
Grosicki had a big impact on the right wing, creating most of Poland’s best attacking play and coming very close to either scoring or picking up an assist in a strong performance. His crosses were as dangerous as ever, and he managed to get himself into plenty of good positions.
3. Yoshinori Mutō (Japan)
Mutō looked very lively up front after coming into the team for Yūya Ōsako, pressing the defence and receiving the ball in some dangerous areas. His skills were good, and he mounted a decent case for inclusion in Japan’s team for the remainder of the tournament.
4. Bartosz Bereszyński (Poland)
Bereszyński worked hard all day on the right side of defence, overlapping well with Grosicki and having a big impact at both ends of the field. His hard running had a huge impact on Poland’s play, and he seems to be a talented prospect for the future.
5. Rafał Kurzawa (Poland)
Kurzawa hasn’t played too many internationals, but his strong performance as a drifting attacking midfielder may grant him more opportunities in the future. His set piece delivery was excellent, and his free-kick to assist the only goal of the game was perfectly weighted and split the Japanese defence expertly.