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World Cup roundup: ‘Fair play’ tiebreaker used for 1st time, Japan benefits | TribLIVE.com
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World Cup roundup: ‘Fair play’ tiebreaker used for 1st time, Japan benefits

The Associated Press
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Japan's midfielder Gaku Shibasaki (left) jumps against Poland's midfielder Jacek Goralski during the World Cup Group H match June 28, 2018.

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 a round of 16 match against Belgium 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.

“It was an ultimate decision for me to make. We did not go through with victory, but we just relied on the other match and I feel that it was slightly regrettable but I suppose at that point I didn’t have any other plans.”

The fans at the Volgograd Arena showed their displeasure by booing and whistling loudly over the final minutes. Poland, happy to get a victory after two losses, did little to pressure the opposing side.

Japan and Senegal finished the group phase with four points, had the same goal difference and the same amount of goals scored. They also played to a 2-2 draw Sunday. 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, and Senegal had six.

Overall, Japan committed only 28 fouls in three group matches, among the fewest in the tournament. Senegal committed 44 fouls.

“It was, for us, more important for us to get into the next round than to win the match,” Japan midfielder Gotoku Sakai said.

Colombia 1, Senegal 0 — The last African team standing at the World Cup lost, leaving it up to a new tiebreaker: which team accumulated fewer yellow cards. Japan had four, Senegal had six.

“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,” 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.”

Yerry Mina scored the only goal. The 6-foot-5 Barcelona defender leapt above a pair of Senegalese defenders to head the ball hard off the ground, off Senegal goalkeeper Khadim Ndiaye’s hand and into the net, sending the enthusiastic Colombian fans at Samara Stadium into a frenzy.

Colombia, which reached the quarterfinals four years ago in Brazil, is the fourth South American team to advance, with only Peru getting eliminated. All five African teams failed to move on.

Colombia will face England on Tuesday in Moscow, and Japan goes on to face Belgium in Rostov-on-Don on Monday.

Tunisia 2, Panama 1 — Tunisian captain Wahbi Khazri and Fakhreddine Ben Youssef ensured their nation’s World Cup slump wouldn’t enter a fifth decade.

Khazri’s hard, rising shot in the 66th minute lifted Tunisia. It came about 15 minutes after the Rennes striker’s pinpoint pass produced Ben Youssef’s equalizer on a redirection off of his right instep.

“We wanted to snatch the victory and I wanted to score and I did,” Ben Youssef said. “This is great day for Tunisia.”

Panama still is looking for a maiden World Cup victory — or draw, for that matter. But it took its first lead in World Cup play in the 33rd minute through an own-goal when Jose Luis Rodriguez’s hard, left-footed shot deflected off of Tunisia’s Yassine Meriah.

Both Group G teams already were eliminated going into the match. Tunisia hadn’t won a World Cup game since a 3-1 victory over Mexico in 1978. The Carthage Eagles then failed to win any of their next 13 World Cup matches.

Belgium 1, England 0 — England barely seemed troubled by losing. Belgium appeared to be a reluctant winner.

Such was the curious conclusion to the group stage at the World Cup. Neither team needed to win, and there was good reason for neither to even want to win.

Belgium collected the three points and secured first place in the group on Adnan Januzaj’s curling shot. But that might not turn out to be the desirable outcome because the victory diverted Belgium onto the tougher potential path to the final.

Thanks to a pair of opening victories for both, England and Belgium entered the Group G match knowing they were already in the second round. Belgium made nine changes and still won.

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