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Honda looks forward after Japan advance

Friday, June 29, 2018
Keisuke Honda - FIFAWC2018 MD1

Volgograd: Keisuke Honda came to the defence of Japan head coach Akira Nishino after he chose substance over style to lead the Samurai Blue to the Knockout Stage of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia on Thursday.

Japan, who reached the second round for the third time in the nation’s history and will face Belgium on Monday in Rostov-on-Don, went through as Group H runners-up behind Colombia despite a 1-0 defeat at the hands of already-eliminated Poland in Volgograd.

Nishino’s men went into the Poland game as group leaders but scraped over the line, edging out Senegal by virtue of the fair play rule with fewer yellow cards than the African side. Colombia beat Senegal 1-0 in the other match to win the group.

With Colombia moving in front late in Samara, Nishino - who made six changes to his starting XI - ordered his team to run out the clock by holding on to possession as long as possible, knowing Japan were ahead of Senegal on the tiebreak.

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The pragmatic approach taken by the former AFC Champions League-winning boss did not sit well with the crowd at Volgograd Arena but three-time World Cup star Honda stood up for Nishino even though he never left the bench in the defeat.

“What was important is the result, and our goal was to get out of the group,” said Pachuca striker. “It must have been kind of hard on the players who were out on the pitch with how we played, but the way the game unfolded was within our expectations.

“It was an extremely positive result.”

Japan’s all-time top scorer at the World Cup also hailed Nishino for taking a risk in the way the four-time AFC Asian Cup champions saw out the match. Had Senegal equalised with Japan camped out in their own half not looking to score, Nishino’s side would have likely boarded their flight home.

“There was always that possibility,” Honda said. “We were definitely relieved for sure. (Nishino) willingly took that risk. Personally, I thought he was brilliant tactically.

“If I were coach, I could have never made the decisions he made. The only thing that matters is the result and I was so impressed by the way he handled everything. He was incredible.”

Honda was sympathetic with the supporters who were in Volgograd wanting end-to-end action but Nishino and company had to make a tough call as the last Asian team standing at this tournament.

“I did feel for the fans who came out expecting to watch entertaining football,” the former CSKA Moscow man said. “But we felt like we did what we had to do – which was to get out of the group.”

“Yet now we’ve earned the opportunity to try to play good football again. I hope people will understand that.”

Photos: FIFA via Getty Images

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