As expected, the Japanese struggled against Senegalese counterattacks but perhaps unexpectedly for them they managed to battle out a 2-2 draw against a team they knew were stronger than them all across the pitch. Japan played better than perhaps even they thought they would and now find themselves in a great position to qualify from Group H.
The draw against Senegal saw Japan stay level at the top of the group with their African counterparts whilst Colombia’s comprehensive win against Poland saw the Eastern European country crash out with a whimper. With these two results Japan now understand that a draw or better against an already knocked out Poland will see them qualify for the Round of 16 for the first time since 2010. The Samurai Blue could also advance to the knockout stages with a loss if Senegal beats Colombia but will want to leave matters in their own hands.
As positive as the result against Senegal was there was fighting talk in the Japanese camp. Captain Makoto Hasebe said “We share a mutual feeling that we are fighting as one, regardless of who is on the pitch” whilst goalscorer against Senegal, Keisuke Honda, had this to say “It was good that we managed to level twice, but the fact we have conceded goals makes us nervous.” Both quotes show the level of teamwork and commitment in the Japanese squad and Honda continued, “This World Cup has given me a positive perspective regarding a substitutional role, which is something new to my soccer career. I am preparing myself with the urgency that I will be given only one shot.” Japan are showing maturity with some of their big name players such as Honda and Shinji Okazaki resigned to roles on the bench but understanding that they must carry out their substitute appearances with grace and hard work, coming off the bench and making a significant impact to aid their countries hopes.
Japan, under coach Akira Nashino, trained behind closed doors on both Monday and Tuesday before holding the obliged press conference the day before the final group match day. The Japanese manager seemed in a buoyant mood , explaining to journalists that the Japanese will play their own game against the Polish “They are not a team we cannot cope with. We would like to strive for the goal by displaying a football style that best suits us, where quick movements of the ball and players are evident.”
Nashino is right to be confident but knows beneath the surface that Poland could be dangerous opposition. They may have disappointed in their two matches thus far, losing both and creating very little, but this means they have a point to prove to their nations fans and to the World. Poland’s manager Adam Nawalka led the Polish national team to eighth place in the FIFA World Rankings and their squad is a potent mix of young talent and established names. “We are fully aware of the abilities and quality of Japanese players. We are also knowledgeable of their play style, strengths, and weaknesses. They are a tough opponent to face, but we are confident in our own abilities.” Star striker Robert Lewandowski will be itching to leave his mark at this tournament and Polish coach Nawalka ended his press conference with words that may come back to haunt Japan, “We will fight for our pride and our fans.”
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