World Cup 2018, Japan vs Poland Preview: Japan Dream Of Round Of 16 As They Face Eliminated Poland

Updated: 27 June 2018 16:30 IST

The Blue Samurai have recovered from months of disarray to be at the verge of the knockout stages.

World Cup 2018, Japan vs Poland Preview: Japan Dream Of Round Of 16 As They Face Eliminated Poland
Japanese coach Akira Nishino would be hoping for the best. © AFP

Japan would be hoping for the best possible results when they take on Poland, who have already made their exit from the FIFA World Cup 2018, in a Group H match that will see the Asian team reach the Round of 16 with a draw, or even a defeat, if other things go their way. Japanese coach Akira Nishino would be hoping for the best but he still could be forgiven for pinching himself if Japan get the draw they need to reach the last 16 of the World Cup.

Just over two months ago he wasn't even in charge of the Blue Samurai and their most recognisable player Keisuke Honda was far from certain of being on the plane to Russia.

Now coach Nishino's side need only a point against the Poles in Volgograd to make it to the knockout stages, thanks to a late equaliser from Honda against Senegal.

It followed the first World Cup win by an Asian country against a South American side when Japan overcame 10-man Colombia 2-1.

Even a defeat may be enough if Senegal beat Colombia, however Japan have their fate in their own hands just months after their World Cup hopes seemed in disarray.

The Japan Football Association took a massive gamble to sack Bosnian coach Vahid Halilhodzic in April following a string of poor performances and reports of friction with senior players.

But it has paid off handsomely and the doubters have been silenced by Nishino's tightly-organised Japan playing with pace, guile and no little skill to remain undefeated at the top of Group H in Russia.

Indeed, the former AC Milan and CSKA Moscow striker Honda may not have been at the World Cup at all had Halilhodzic still been in charge, so poisonous had their relationship become.

But the instantly recognisable bleach-blond, spiky-haired livewire has been born again as an impact substitute under Nishino.

Honda, who now plays for Pachuca in Mexico, became the first Japanese player to score in three World Cups after he climbed off the bench to secure the 2-2 draw in Yekaterinburg.

It was very different last August when Honda had sat glumly on the bench as Japan secured their spot in Russia with a home win against Australia.

Before leaving for Russia, the outspoken striker whose goals at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa shot him to fame, took the opportunity to stick the boot into Halilhodzic.

"To submit myself to the kind of football Halilhodzic played in order to get picked, that would be shameful for me," he told national broadcaster NHK. "I'm proud that I've stayed true to myself."

Past meetings between Japan and Poland give little clue as to Thursday's outcome at the Volgograd Arena. They have played just two friendlies with Japan winning both times, the last in 2002.

Poland skipper Robert Lewandowski urged his team to salvage some pride after a sorry World Cup campaign saw them the first European side to be eliminated.

The Poles came to Russia with high hopes of reaching the knockout phase for the first time since 1986, but a 3-0 defeat to Colombia confirmed their early exit after an opening 2-1 reverse against Senegal.

"Right now we realise we didn't do well enough but that is something we cannot overcome," said the prolific Bayern Munich striker on Tuesday.

(With AFP inputs)

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Topics : Japan Poland 2018 FIFA World Cup Football Japan vs Poland, Match 45
Highlights
  • Now coach Nishino's side need only a point against the Poles in Volgograd
  • Robert Lewandowski urged Poland to salvage some pride
  • The Poles came to Russia with high hopes of reaching the knockout phase
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