Many Japan fans said they understood the team's passive approach during the World Cup game against Poland on Thursday as a tactic to advance to the knockout stage, but others who had hoped for goals and victory by the Samurai Blue called it a major turnoff.
Japan lost the game 1-0 but progressed due to Colombia's win over Senegal by the same margin and the FIFA fair play rules that worked in favor of the Samurai Blue. After learning that Colombia were leading Senegal 1-0, Japan knew they were level with the Africans on goal difference but had received fewer yellow cards and so would progress if the score remained unchanged in their own game.
Japan then focused on playing for possession while Poland, who were already eliminated, appeared unconcerned about snatching back the ball and trying to extend their lead, both teams drawing flak from some sections of the crowd.
"It was the right decision," said Taiga Izumi, an 18-year-old university student from Tokyo, who watched the match in Volgograd.
"There was a risk of Japan getting knocked out if they charged forward, lost the ball and conceded a second goal, and that would have drawn more criticism," he said.
Ryu Kuroda, a 30-year-old from Tokyo who was also in the Russian city, said he understood it as a tactic but that he "wanted to see Japan score."
Takayuki Yamada, 27, who followed the game in Osaka, said he was planning to celebrate with his friends by jumping into a river but was "turned off" by the performance.
Japan manager Akira Nishino said it was an "ultimate decision" for making it to the next stage by going defensive and hanging on to the 1-0 deficit.
"I am not too happy about this, but I forced my players to do what I said. It's the World Cup, and sometimes these things can't be avoided," he said after the game.
Government ministers welcomed the outcome, while pundits were more critical about the decision.
"It must have been a deliberate strategy after paying due attention to the rules," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, adding, "The important thing is that they made it through the group stage."
Health minister Katsunobu Kato welcomed the outcome, while sports minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said he wants to rejoice with the people of Japan.
"It may not have been 100 percent from the standpoint of Bushido (the way of samurai), but I would like to praise the manager," said Teru Fukui, minister in charge of Okinawa and northern territories affairs.
But Atsuhisa Yamamoto, an expert in sports sociology at Seijo University, said the team's playing style left a sour taste and will inevitably be criticized as "a blasphemy to football."
"It was a day when Japan became pragmatic at the World Cup," Yamamoto said, adding, "I want the players to switch their mindset for the next round and put in a performance that they can proudly show to children aspiring to be professional footballers."