Japan will look to seal qualification to the knockout stages of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, when they face off against Poland on Thursday.

Group H leaders Japan will take on bottom dwellers Poland in their final group game of the 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup, at the Volgograd Arena.

Japan stand on the cusp of qualifying to the Round of 16, after their 2-2 draw against Senegal this past week, which followed a surprise 2-1 win against Colombia in their tournament opener. And a point against the European nation on Thursday should assure the Blue Samurai a place in the knockout stages.

Poland, on the other hand, have endured a disastrous campaign in Russia. Having beaten 2-1 in Senegal in their first game of the World Cup, Adam Nawalka’s side were dumped out of the tournament with a 3-0 defeat to Colombia last week. After an extremely disappointing last couple of weeks, the Polish squad will be hoping to end things on a better note, with a victory over Japan.

Team News & Tactics

Japan

Akira Nishino’s side may not have played the most catchy football, but they have shown a certain doggedness about them and after their performance against Senegal when they came down from a goal on two occasions, there doesn’t seem a need for the manager to change things around.

Veteran goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima did not look all that convincing against Senegal in the last game, but is expected to continue between the sticks against Poland and will want to put in a commanding display.

Maya Yoshida and Gen Shoji are expected to keep their places in the heart of the defence and tackle the threat of Robert Lewandowski. Hiroki Sakai and the extremely impressive Yuto Nagatomo will continue as the full-backs on the right and left respectively.

Captain Makoto Hasebe will once again man the midfield area along with Gaku Shibasaki and disrupt Poland from settling into a rhythm and help their team launch attacks with passes from the centre. The pacey Genki Haraguchi will start out on the right-flank and look to have a run at the Polish full-back, while Takashi Inui will be looking to carry on from where he left against Senegal.

In the No. 10 role, the experienced Shinji Kagawa is expected to resume duties and look to create chances for the centre-forward, Yuya Osako, who has displaced the veteran Shinji Okazaki as the first-choice in the team.

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

Poland

After having seen his team being shred apart in an unfamiliar three-man defence system against the Colombians, Poland manager Adam Nawalka should revert to the tried and tested 4-2-3-1 setup against the Japanese on Wednesday.

Wojciech Szczesny will continue between the goal despite shipping five goals in the first two games and will hope to end the campaign with a better performance. With the change in the defensive shape, Lukasz Piszczek should return to his natural right-back role, after starting as one of the back three against Senegal while Maciej Rybus should continue as the left-back.

Kamil Glik’s absence in the heart of the defence has hurt Poland in Russia, but he could be set for a start on Thursday, following his brief cameo in the last game. Partnering him should be Michal Pazdan, meaning young Jan Bednarek drops out.

Grzegorz Krychowiak will take up one of the two slots in the middle of the park and look to act as the link between the defence and attack. And he is likely to be partnered by a talented box-to-box midfielder in the form of Karol Linetty with Piotr Zielinski moved up ahead into the role of the No.10, to try and have more of a say in the final third of the pitch.

Bartosz Bereszynski did little of note against Colombia and should make way for the experienced Jakub Blaszczykowski on the right-flank against Japan, while the young Dawid Kownacki is also likely to be left out in favour of Kamil Grosicki. Upfront, captain Robert Lewandowski will hope to end the campaign on a high, after another disappointing major tournament in national colours.

Probable Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Piszczek, Pazdan, Glik, Rybus; Krychowiak, Linetty; Blaszczykowski, Zielinski, Grosicki; Lewandowski;

Key Stats

  • Japan have won each of their two encounters against Poland, winning 5-0 in February 1996 and 2-0 in March 2002.
  • Poland are looking to avoid losing all three of their World Cup group games for the first time.
  • Japan haven’t gone undefeated in three consecutive World Cup games since 2002 – those three unbeaten games were all in the group stage as they qualified for the knockouts.
  • Poland haven’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.
  • Japan have scored four goals at the 2018 World Cup, double the amount they managed in 2014; in only one previous tournament have they ever scored more, netting five in 2002 when they were joint-hosts with South Korea.
  • Keisuke Honda’s goal against Senegal made him the first Japanese player to score at three different World Cup tournaments (2010, 2014, 2018).

Player to watch

Robert Lewandowski (Poland)

Can Lewandowski break his duck against Japan? (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Can Lewandowski break his duck against Japan? (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

After another stellar season at the club level with Bayern Munich, a lot was expected from Robert Lewandowski as Poland looked to get past the group stages in the World Cup for the first time since 1986. The 29-year old, who is the highest goal-getter for the country, with 55 goals from 97 appearances, led the way for the team during the qualifiers, bagging 16 goals in 10 games, but has failed to translate that form to the main event.

Lewandowski hasn’t had the best of records in major tournaments, having managed just one goal in the 2012 and 2016 editions of the UEFA Euro and is yet to get off the mark in Russia. He will be hoping to sign off with an impactful display on Wednesday and lead his team to a consolation victory.

Prediction

Japan 1-1 Poland

Poland have struggled for creativity and spark in the final third and given how low the morale will be within the camp following their exit from the tournament, it is unlikely to see them mount a serious turnaround. Japan just need a point to ensure safe passage to the knockouts and Nishino’s side are likely to play it safe and not risk a loss by being adventurous. And, that is why here at the Hard Tackle, we see the game ending in a 1-1 draw at the Volgograd Arena.

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