The top two of Group H will clash on Sunday when Japan take on Senegal at the Ekaterinburg Arena. THT takes a look at three players who could be the difference-makers in the game.
Having kicked things off with victories in their respective opening games in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, Japan and Senegal will look to make it two in two, when they lock horns on Sunday in their second Group H encounter.
Japan come into the game high on morale after their surprise 2-1 win over group favourites Colombia, courtesy of goals from Shinji Kagawa and Yuya Osako. Senegal will also be buoyant after their impressive display in the 2-1 win against Poland this past Tuesday with M’Baye Niang hitting the winning goal in the second period.
Another victory for either side on Sunday could see their progression to the Round of 16 all but guaranteed, setting the tone for an enticing battle at the Ekaterinburg Arena. And ahead of the crucial game, we take a look at the three players who could shine the most on the day.
The 20-year-old winger is one of the most exciting talents in the Senegalese squad in Russia. Sarr, so far, has made 13 appearances for the Lions of Teranga in his burgeoning career, netting two goals in the process and is coming on the back of an impressive 2017-18 campaign with French club Rennes, scoring and assisting 5 goals apiece in 24 Ligue 1 appearances.
And the 20-year old kicked off his maiden FIFA World Cup campaign with an exciting display against Poland earlier this week, causing all sorts of troubles to left-back Maciej Rybus with his pace and power.
No player made more dribbles than Sarr during that game, indicating that he can be a handful to deal with. A player who was on Barcelona’s radar in the past, Sarr isn’t quite the finished article yet, but could once again be a major threat going forward against Japan.
The 28-year0old FC Koln striker was a surprise pick over veteran goalscorer Shinji Okazaki in the starting lineup when Japan took on Colombia in their opening World Cup fixture. But the forward repaid his manager’s faith in him by netting the all-important winner for the Blue Samurais earlier this week.
He had the same number of shots on target (3) as the entire Colombian team managed on the day, made the most key passes in the game (2) and also completed the most number of dribbles (3). Osaka has been around with the Japanese national team for a while now and has racked up 30 international caps, bagging eight goals, having made his debut back in 2013.
Having performed admirably in the opener, he is sure to have nailed down a spot in the starting lineup for the Senegal game. But, can he put on a similar performance against the defensive duo of Kalidou Koulibaly and Salif Sane on Sunday? Not long before we find out.
One of the most devastating attackers in the Premier League, Sadio Mane is coming off the back of an excellent 2017-18 season with Liverpool. The 26-year-old finished the campaign with returns of 20 goals and 9 assists, playing a huge role in Liverpool’s run to the final of the UEFA Champions League.
However, things did not get off to best of starts for him in Russia, as he failed to make much of an impact against Poland in Senegal’s tournament opener. Mane, who captained the Lions of Teranga on Tuesday, has now failed to find the back of the net in his last five international appearances and will be keen on setting that right, when he takes the field against Japan this weekend.
A subject of interest for European champions Real Madrid, Mane will be hoping to rediscover his goal-scoring touch on the international stages soon, as he looks to fire Senegal through to the knockout stages.