Japan v Poland preview
Japan is targeting top spot in World Cup Group H as they finish their group campaign with a game against already-eliminated Poland on Thursday (2pm GMT).
Japan are currently on four points and will advance to the round of 16 with a win or a draw.
They could also progress with a loss depending on how the other game between Colombia and Senegal finishes.
“Japan is not the kind of team that can aim for a point and go and carry that plan out,” said captain Makoto Hasebe.
“I think we have to focus on getting three points rather than make calculations.”
“We have four points after two games but we haven’t accomplished anything yet.”
After a 2-2 draw on Sunday, Japan and Senegal share the lead in the group with four points and the same number of goals scored and conceded.
If Japan earns at least the point they need against Poland, it will only be the second time that they have gone through the group stage undefeated, the other being when co-hosting in 2002 with South Korea.
Colombia, who are on three points, could still top the group with a win over Senegal in Samara.
If Japan and Senegal were to finish in the second spot and with the same goal difference and number of goals scored, then the team advancing could be determined by the number of yellow and red cards awarded.
If that can’t separate them, FIFA will draw lots to decide who goes through, with the winners and runners-up facing either Belgium or England from Group G.
Poland has nothing to play for except pride as they are bottom of the group after defeats to Senegal and Colombia.
“Many things did not go as they should today, during this World Cup,” said striker Robert Lewandowski after their 3-0 loss to Colombia.
“I was alone, we fought, I fought, I did everything I could, but fighting is not enough to win World Cup matches, you also have to have quality, and we had too little of that.”
Keisuke Honda is pushing for a start for Japan after impressing from the bench in the two previous games, and scoring in the draw with Senegal on Sunday.
Coach Akira Nishino is under pressure from the Japanese media to consider dropping Eiji Kawashima, after the goalkeeper’s costly error in that draw.
Poland could make changes with nothing at stake, including influential defender Kamil Glik, who came off the bench against Colombia after injury.
Japan have won each of their two encounters against Poland, winning 5-0 in February 1996 and 2-0 in March 2002.
Japan has failed to score in four of their last five World Cup games against European opponents (W1 D2 L2), with their only goals coming in a 3-1 victory over Denmark in 2010.
Keisuke Honda’s goal against Senegal made him the first Japanese player to score at three different World Cup tournaments (2010, 2014, 2018).
Poland became the first European nation eliminated from the 2018 World Cup when they lost to Colombia – this is the third consecutive World Cup tournament they’ve gone out at the group stage (also 2002 and 2006).
Takashi Inui has scored three goals in his last three games for Japan; this after scoring just two in his previous 26 matches for the national team.
Poland is looking to avoid losing all three of their World Cup group games for the first time.
Poland hasn’t kept a clean sheet at the World Cup since winning 1-0 against Portugal in 1986, conceding 23 goals across 10 games since then.