Buoyed by victories in their opening fixtures, Senegal and Japan will take on each other in their second Group H encounter at the Ekaterinburg Arena this weekend.

After registering unlikely wins in their 2018 FIFA World Cup openers, Japan and Senegal will lock horns on Sunday, with an eye on sealing a qualification to the next round in Russia.

Japan produced a spirited display to defeat ten-man Colombia 2-1, in the process becoming the first ever Asian nation to beat a South American opposition at a World Cup. Having produced one of the biggest surprise results of the main event in Russia, the Blue Samurai will be high on confidence heading into Sunday’s encounter and will hope to make it two wins in two.

Senegal too produced an impressive all-round display to come out on top against Poland, beating them 2-1 in their opening match on Tuesday. And the Lions of Teranga will be looking to carry the momentum from their surprise victory into the game against the Japanese, with their eyes firmly set on advancement to the round of 16.

Team News and Tactics

Japan

Having seen his side produce an admirable performance against the Colombians, there is no reason for Japanese manager Akira Nishino to make any changes to the team that started in a 4-2-3-1 setup on Tuesday.

Eiji Kawashima should once again start between the posts for the Asian nation at the Ekaterinburg Arena. And he will be shielded by the back four comprising of Hiroki Sakai and Yuto Nagatomo as the full-backs on the right and left respectively, while Maya Yoshida and Gen Shoji will slot in the centre. They will be in for a difficult time though, given the pace that the Senegalese attackers possess.

34-year old Japanese captain Makoto Hasebe will man the centre of the park, occupying one of the two midfield pivot positions, while the other will be taken up by the impressive Gaku Shibasaki.

Takashi Inui will look to provide the creative edge for the Blue Samurai from the left-flank, while the pacey and skillful Genki Haraguchi will fancy taking on the Senegalese full-backs from the right wing. Occupying the No.10 slot for Japan on Sunday will be Borussia Dortmund star Shinji Kagawa, who found the back of the net against Colombia from the penalty spot.

Veteran striker Shinji Okazaki is likely to miss out once again though, after Yuya Osako’s match-winning performance in the opening game earlier this week.

Probable Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Kawashima; Sakai, Yoshida, Shoji, Nagatomo; Shibasaki, Hasebe; Haraguchi, Kagawa, Inui; Osaka;

Senegal

Senegal head coach Aliou Cisse is likely to set his team out in a 4-4-2 formation once again on Sunday with no major changes expected to the team, after their performance against Poland. Khadim N’Diaye will start in goal once again, ahead of Abdoulaye Diallo for the African nation against the Japanese.

At right-back, youngster Moussa Wague was a surprise inclusion ahead of Lamine Gassama against Poland. But after an encouraging display, he should keep his spot in the starting XI, with Youssouf Sabaly likely to be retained on the opposite side. In the heart of the defence, the centre-back duo of Kalidou Koulibaly and Salif Sane are set to resume their partnership, meaning Kara Mbodji will miss out once again.

The central midfield partnership of Alfred N’Diaye and Idrissa Gueye worked brilliantly for Senegal earlier this week, with the duo emerging out as key players with their pressing, defensive diligence and the occasional forward forays as well. They are very much likely to start against Japan, meaning there will be no place for captain Cheikhou Kouyate in the starting XI once more.

The promising Ismaila Sarr and the dangerous Sadio Mane will start in the wide areas and look to cause trouble to the Japanese backline with their blistering pace and dribbling abilities.

M’Baye Niang is a guaranteed starter as one of the strikers after netting the winner against Poland, but there could be a change in the offing in the other centre-forward position. Mame Biram Diouf was largely ineffective on Tuesday and is likely to be left out in favour of 25-year old Moussa Konate, who made an appearance from the bench.

Probable Starting XI (4-4-2): K. N’Diaye; Wague, Sane, Koulibaly, Sabaly; Sarr, A. N’Diaye, Gueye, Mane; Konate, Niang;

Key Stats

  • Senegal are unbeaten against Japan, having won two games and drawn one in the three times that they have clashed.
  • If Japan win on Sunday, they will become the first ever Asian nation to win their first two games in a FIFA World Cup.
  • Japan haven’t won consecutive games at the World Cup since 2002, when they co-hosted the tournament with South Korea. On that occasion, the Blue Samurai triumphed in their second and third games of the group stage against Russia and Tunisia.
  • Senegal have conceded just five goals in their last nine games in all competitions, with four of them coming in the second half.
  • Only two African nations have ever won both of their opening two matches in a World Cup – Cameroon in 1990 and Nigeria in 1998.
  • Senegal have won three of their six World Cup matches. They have the best win percentage of any African nation to play in the competition (50%).

Player to watch

M’Baye Niang (Senegal)

Can Niang star again for Senegal? (Photo courtesy: AFP/Getty)

Can Niang star again for Senegal? (Photo courtesy: AFP/Getty)

The 23-year old attacker put in a strong performance in the tournament opener for the Lions of Teranga and went on to cap the display with the winning goal, albeit in somewhat controversial circumstances, on his way bagging the Man of the Match award.

Niang proved to be a thorn in Poland’s side all game, with his pace and power causing plenty of problems to the European nation’s defence. Having scored his first ever international goal on Tuesday, the forward will be riding high on confidence and could once again prove to be the difference maker for Senegal against Japan.

Prediction

Japan 1-2 Senegal

Both Senegal and Japan will come into the game chasing a victory, knowing very well that they will face difficult opponents in Colombia and Poland respectively in their final group fixture, which could jeopardize their chances of making it through to the next round. And given the fact both the teams aren’t the most solid at the back, expect it to be an open, free-flowing game with plenty of chances created.

However, Senegal’s forward line, featuring the likes of Sadio Mane and Niang, along with the likes of Keita Balde Diao waiting in the wings, seems to have the edge over Japan. As a result, we expect the African nation to extend their unbeaten streak against the Blue Samurai to four games on Sunday and inch closer towards qualification to the knockout stages.

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