World Cup 2018: Japan vs Poland – 5 things to look forward to

Japan and Poland finish their group stage campaigns when they meet in Volgograd on Thursday afternoon.


REUTERS/Max Rossi

Group H comes to a climactic end on Thursday when Japan face the already-eliminated Poland, and Colombia battle it out with Senegal as three sides chase progression to the Round of 16. 

The Japanese find themselves atop the group heading into the last round of games, a position few predicted they would be in.

For the Poles, it’s been a World Cup to forget as a 3-0 defeat to Colombia dumped them from contention after only two games. 

There is still all to play for though in Group H as one team will fail to make the cut.

Here are five things to look forward to from the game.

  1. 1 Can Japan defy the odds?


    REUTERS/John Sibley

    Few gave the Japanese much chance of emerging from one of the tournament's more open groups having been drawn against a Colombia side who impressed in 2014, a Senegal side who are always unpredictable and a Poland team that always have an attacking threat. 

    As it's turned out, though, Akira Nishino's side have a great chance to progress to the Round of 16. 

    The Japanese have played without fear and displayed a side of resilience and defiance against Senegal after twice coming from behind to draw level.

    They currently sit top the group by virtue of a cleaner disciplinary record than Senegal, despite having identical records so far. 

    Colombia lie in ambush in third place after losing to Japan in the first game, although a much-needed response against Poland but them right back into the frame. 

  2. 2 Lots of permutations


    REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

    A win for Japan will secure progress to the Round of 16 as it is not possible for both Senegal and Colombia to catch them. 

    The odds are certainly in the Asian sides' favour, though. Even a defeat to Poland in Thursday's game could still be enough to see them through, provided: Senegal win or Colombia win by more goals than Poland. 

    If Japan were to lose and the other two sides were to draw, then the Japanese would be eliminated by virtue of a weaker goal difference. 

    For Colombia, the mission is much clearer: they must win, or hope Japan lose, to stand a realistic chance of going through a group they were expected to take control of.

    Senegal can also confirm their place in the knockout stages with a draw. 

  3. 3 Can Lewandowski make a mark?


    REUTERS/John Sibley

    'Better late than never,' as they say. It's been the latter for Robert Lewandowski so far in this World Cup, though. 

    It's his first appearance at a World Cup, and it couldn't have gone much for the Bundesliga hitman. Poland, on the whole, have been woeful and the service to the number nine has been incredibly limited. 

    Polish fans will hope that the pressure will be off their side now that elimination is confirmed, allowing more fluid play. Not an ideal trade-off, though, by any means. 

    The Poles have only scored one goal so far in the tournament, a late strike from Grzegorz Krychowiak which turned out to be a mere consolation.

    Lewandowski has been virtually non-existent in the Poland shirt so far, and his performances or lack thereof have drawn a lot of criticism in his native land. 

  4. 4 Midfield dilemma for Nishino?


    REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

    Japan's midfield has been a key part in their successes so far in Russia. 

    Of their four goals, three have come from midfield players. Shinji Kagawa, Takashi Inui and Keisuke Honda can all see their names on the goal-scoring charts. 

    Nishino has elected to name Kagawa and Inui alongside Genki Haraguchi as his attacking midfield for both previous fixtures, though Honda has impressed on both occasions when coming off the bench, with one goal and one assist in 40 minutes of play. 

    The creativity of the attack has often been the responsibility of Kagawa, whose industrious play has linked the midfield and attack smoothly. 

    Honda offers Nishino an option in the later stages of games but have his performances off the bench been enough to earn him a starting XI spot?

  5. 5 What lies in wait for Japan?


    REUTERS/Carlos Barria

    Nishino and his team, much like Colombia and Senegal, will keep a keen eye on developments in Group G later on in the evening. 

    Group G and H will crossover in the first knockout round, with the top side in each playing the runner-up in the opposing group. 

    Japan will aim to top the group, naturally, although an appointment with Belgium or England in the Round of 16 won't look overly appetising given the form of both sides. 

    Roberto Martinez and Gareth Southgate have dilemmas of their own to consider and perhaps have their eyes further down the knockout path.

    For Japan, a place in the Round of 16 is within touching distance. The Blue Samurai last reached the knockout phase back in 2010, although they are no stranger to the latter rounds of tournament football, having escaped from their group in two of the last five World Cups.

    Can Japan finish the job and push through to the knockout phase? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

  1. Poll: Who will win this final group stage game?

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    2. Poland
    3. Neither - it will be a draw
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