“Survive and advance.”
It is the popular mantra come March Madness time. It implies that in a difficult and long tournament, all that matters is doing well enough to survive, get the win and move on to the next round.
In a similar circumstance in their final match of Group H play at the World Cup, the Japan national soccer team took “surviving” to the extreme. Despite losing 1-0 late in the game to Poland, the results as they stood set up Japan to advance out of Group H and into the Round of 16. Thanks to the result in the other Group H match, a 1-0 lead for Colombia over Senegal, Japan and Senegal were due to end up in a tie for second place.
They were even on points, goal differential, goals scored and head-to-head. That meant it came down to FIFA Fair Play rules, essentially the number of yellow and red cards the team received in group play. Japan had fewer cards, so they would go through.
Somebody evidently made Japan aware of this around the 80th minute, as the game descended into an extended kickabout. Players did little more than pass back and forth, keeping it away from Poland and doing nothing to risk any change in score. It was risky, as it depended on Senegal not scoring. It also wasn’t very much fun to watch. But it worked, as Japan saw the game out and booked a trip to the knockout round.
Japan coach Akira Nishino made no excuses, freely admitting that his side stopped trying to go for the win based on the other results. They did what they had to do, but some observers criticized the decision. Some even went so far is to say it tainted the World Cup as a whole.
Japan certainly followed the rules here. But was what they did bad for sports? Shouldn’t teams always play to win and ignore what might be happening in other competitions?
What’s your take?
Take 1: Always go for the win
No team should ever seek to win by a technicality. That’s essentially what Japan did here. They chose to advance by doing as little as possible, and that’s the opposite of what sports are all about. It sends the wrong message. It’s also really bad strategy. Just one goal by Senegal would have knocked Japan out, and then it would have been too late for them to try and score. You give it your best and if you concede a goal, then that’s just what happens. At least you know you tried your best.
Take 2: Do whatever is best for the team
Unless you’re cheating, you should do whatever you can to get the best result. For Japan, this meant playing conservatively and hoping for the best. They felt at the time that playing to preserve the score was their best option. They had few scoring chances in the game and did not want to be vulnerable at the back. That’s actually good strategy. They played to their strengths at the time. It doesn’t mean they don’t want to compete. They survived and could then go out and give it their all in the next round.
So should a team go all out all the time? Or should they do whatever it takes to win, even if it’s ugly? Have your say in the comments below.
From GameChanger and Todd Kortemeier
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