Japan know biggest challenges are yet to come


Straight after Japan’s 2-1 victory over Colombia they were on a flight back to their training camp in Kazan, receiving a heroes welcome from those working there. While those who featured significantly in the match spent time in recovery, others who didn’t feature so prominently such as Shinji Okazaki trained in chilly conditions using Rubin Kazan’s match-day facilities. There were beaming smiles on the faces of the whole squad and rightly so having beaten the toughest team on paper in their group but the experienced heads knew the biggest challenges were yet to come.

Left-back Yuto Nagatomo, now plying his trade at Galatasaray in Turkey, spoke to the Japanese Football Association about the Colombia game saying “Even if we win the first match, it means nothing if we lose the next two matches. It’s important to gain confidence but we struggled against a Colombian side who were a man short. We are the weakest team in our group in terms of quality. We must stay realistic and make our decisions rationally or else we may be hit hard in the next two matches.”

These comments show that Japanese heads remain firmly on shoulders. They understand that their win against Colombia came under dubious and unlikely circumstances that suited them and weakened their opponent. However this could act to fuel motivation which shouldn’t really be needed considering a win here puts them into the knockout stages for just the third time. Senegal, however, looked more than dangerous on the counter attack in their 2-1 win against Poland which should have perhaps been a more convincing score line. Their quality shone all over the pitch, especially in midfield where they combined both combative spirit with technical ability. Senegal won almost all 50:50 challenges against their European counterparts and Japan will need to show the same spirit they showed in the first game to even attempt to match the African side.

In terms of the line up it is expected that most remains the same with no fresh injury concerns for Akira Nashino in the Japanese dugout. Keisuke Honda trained with those who started the last game and could come in for Genki Haraguchi who was the least effective of the forward players against Colombia. Shinji Okazaki came on for the final five minutes of their first group stage match but his fitness is still lacking and newly signed Werder Bremen striker Yuya Osaka impressed in his role in winning the penalty and scoring the winner. Osaka’s hold up play could hurt Senegal with Inui and Kagawa floating around and running off his flicks. However the support will have to be well timed and thought out as Senegal could well win this game and put themselves through using devastating counter attacks and clever finishing with the likes of Sadio Mane and M’Baye Niang proving huge threats against Poland.

A winner takes all tie, both Colombia and Poland will hope this ends in a draw so they have hopes of progressing in what is still a tight and hard to call Group H.

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