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Good old discipline pays off for Japan

Posted June 30th, 2018, 10:14 AM IST

Good old discipline pays off for Japan

Moscow: Japan defeated Senegal 4-6 on Thursday to advance to the last 16 of the World Cup in Russia. There was no mistake in the score line; Japan edged out Senegal on fewer yellow cards after both teams had finished with the same points, goal difference and goals scored. The African country became the first side to go out on the fair play rule while Japan's customary discipline helped them move up.

Japan and Senegal crashed to a 1-0 defeat against Poland and Colombia respectively in their final league matches in Group H, a set of results that propelled the South American country to the top. But a way had to be found to decide the runner-up. As per Fifa's rules, disciplinary record of the two teams concerned will be used to separate them. Japan prevailed with two cards fewer than Senegal.

Many critics have sprung up online and elsewhere, questioning the fairness of the fair play rule. Some said the fifth option to separate the two teams, drawing of lots, was fairer. Although Senegal coach Aliou Cisse has taken the failure of his team on his chin, fans sore over the absence of an African team in the round of 16 for the first times since 1982 are knocking on the doors of Fifa to change the rule.

Japan's gamble of not leaving their own half for the final 10 minutes of the game against Poland has also riled many, who drew a parallel to West Germany's farcical 1-0 win over Austria at the 1982 World Cup that shut the door on Algeria. The widely believed fixed match between West Germany and Austria necessitated the simultaneous kick-off of final league matches in a group from the 1986 World Cup.

Watching Japan kick the ball around in their own half to preclude another goal and further cards wasn't a pretty sight but demonising them for their strategy is wrong. It was a risky option because Japan would have gone out had Senegal scored a goal against Colombia. The rule wasn't inherently unfair because it was the same for all teams.