Japan coach Akira Nishino said he was “forced” to tell his players to down tools towards the end of their World Cup match against Poland, to secure last 16 qualification.
With 10 minutes to go Japan were losing 1-0, but with Colombia leading Senegal by the same scoreline in the other simultaneous Group H tie it meant Japan would qualify on fair play with Colombia.
Despite boos ringing out, the Japanese and Polish players slowed to walking pace for the last 10 minutes.
“It was a very tough decision. There was a ‘what if?’ on our pitch, and a ‘what if?’ on the other pitch.
“I chose to keep the status quo in our game, and rely instead on the other result.
“My players were very loyal in listening to me and following my decision. It was tough, as my style is attack minded.
“The situation forced me to make this decision.”
Japan ended the first round level on points and goal difference with Senegal, but with two fewer yellow cards, it is the Blue Samurai that go on to meet either England or Belgium in the last 16, while Senegal head home.
Japan have defied sceptics in Russia after sacking their coach Vahid Halilhodzic just two months before the tournament began and appointing Nishino, previously Japan Football Association technical director.
© Agence France-Presse