Despite the booing at Volgograd Arena and widespread jeering from soccer journalists, one Samurai Blue player had only praise for coach Akira Nishino's strategy in his team's 1-0 World Cup loss to Poland on June 28.

"The results are everything," said veteran midfielder Keisuke Honda. "It was a brilliant managerial judgment. I would not have been able to do that if I were the manager."

What Nishino did was to accept defeat to Poland in the waning minutes and pray that the strictly defensive stance of his team late in the second half would be enough to push his team through to the knockout stage of the World Cup.

Japan would have advanced automatically if it beat or tied Poland in its final group match. But after Jan Bednarek scored for Poland in the 14th minute of the second half, Nishino was forced to decide on whether to go for an equalizer or concede defeat.

The substitution of striker Yoshinori Muto with Makoto Hasebe, a defensive midfielder, in the 37th minute was the very sign that Nishino was not going for a win. The lack of any effort to push the ball up the pitch by the Japanese side led to booing from the crowd of 42,189.

Team captain Hasebe was the third and final substitute, and he brought with him instructions from Nishino that he passed on to his teammates.

"Don't take risks," Hasebe told his teammates. "Maintain a defensive balance. The score can stay as it is."

Nishino also gave an order for the first time in his managerial career.

"Avoid any unnecessary fouls."

That would be important because at that time there was very little separating Japan and Senegal in determining which team would end up second in Group H and advance to the knockout stage.

The two teams were tied at the first six levels used to determine the group standing. Japan was ahead of Senegal in the FIFA fair play points, having received two fewer yellow cards.

If the two matches going on simultaneously ended unchanged, Japan would advance.

Nishino likely inserted Hasebe because he was not confident the Samurai Blue could score a tying goal. Many were physically exhausted from playing in the 35-degree heat. Having replaced six players in the starting lineup from the second group game and with three of those players appearing for the first time in a World Cup, Japan's attack was not as smooth or coordinated as in the first two games.

The progress of the Senegal-Colombia game was checked every minute.

Nishino said he was faced with an important decision as time went on.

"I decided to leave it completely up to forces outside of the team," he said. "It may have been the ultimate decision that I have ever made as a manager."

If Senegal scored a tying goal, Japan would be eliminated.

But the Japanese players continued to pass the ball between themselves without forcing the action, and Senegal ended up losing to Colombia 1-0.

The Nishino that showed up at the news conference after the game was not the confident one of the first two games in which his aggressive managing led to a win over Colombia and a tie with Senegal.

"My personal feelings are that I made a reluctant decision," Nishino said. "I had my players exposed to a shower of boos."

But Hasebe had a different take.

"It might have been very frustrating to those watching, but this is soccer," he said.