Japan captain Makoto Hasebe has urged his side to go for the win against Poland and move into the last 16 of the World Cup in style.
The Samurai Blue are somewhat surprise leaders of a balanced Group H after two matches, having followed up a 2-1 win over Colombia with a 2-2 draw against Senegal.
A point against Poland, who will be heading home after the group phase, will guarantee Japan’s spot in the next round, where they will face either Belgium or England.
However, Hasebe is eager to claim all three against Adam Nawalka’s side and build some momentum for the rest of their campaign.
“I don’t think we can enter the match looking for a draw and to get the results we want,” he said.
“Although we earned four points in two matches, we haven’t accomplished anything yet. The next match will be the deciding match. We must enter the match with the intention to earn three points and put the focal point on our performance.”
While Japan’s time in Russia has undoubtedly been a success, Poland’s has been met with severe criticism from fans and the media at home.
Their meek performances in defeats to Senegal and Colombia have left them with zero points and a goal difference of minus four heading into Thursday’s game in Volgograd.
Kamil Grosicki admits it has been a chastening experience for the squad, who are now out to play “for honour” against Japan.
“We’ve disappointed everyone, not least ourselves. We came here with great hopes and huge dreams. Now we’re able to play the last match just for honour.
“We couldn’t even get the ball off Colombia, never mind counter against them.”
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 24, 2018
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Japan – Maya Yoshida
Robert Lewandowski, it is safe to assume, will be on a mission to make sure his World Cup does not end in total disappointment. The man most suited to stopping him is Southampton’s Maya Yoshida, who could be about to face his toughest personal duel of the tournament so far.
Poland – Arkadiusz Milik
Milik’s ineffective display in the opening loss to Senegal saw him dropped for the game with Colombia. That certainly did not help Poland, either. With only pride at stake, the forward could well get another chance to impress and, if rumours are to be believed, to attract some suitors to tempt him away from Napoli.
KEY OPTA STATS
– Japan have won each of their two encounters against Poland, winning 5-0 in February 1996 and 2-0 in March 2002.
– Japan have failed to score in four of their last five World Cup games against European opponents (W1 D2 L2), with their only goals coming in a 3-1 victory over Denmark in 2010.
– Poland’s only World Cup meeting with an Asian side came in 2002 – losing 2-0 in the group stages against South Korea.
– Takashi Inui has scored three goals in his last three games for Japan; this after scoring just two in his previous 26 matches for the national team.
– Poland have not kept a clean sheet at the World Cup since winning 1-0 against Portugal in 1986, conceding 23 goals across 10 games since then.
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