Japan will be the only Asian side to qualify for the last 16 of the 2018 FIFA World Cup if they take a point from Poland in the Volgograd Arena on Thursday. The Japan vs Poland Group H match is scheduled to start at 7:30 PM IST. Meanwhile, if Japan succeed they will be the first Asian team to reach the second stage of the tournament since they did so in 2010 in South Africa.
Japan are the only Asian side to reach the knockout stages of the World Cup since they and South Korea did so when they hosted the tournament in 2002. Japan have impressed so far in Russia with a 2-1 win over Colombia and a 2-2 draw in an entertaining match against Senegal. The Japanese will be favourites against Poland, who have lost their two matches and have no chance of reaching the last 16.
"Although we earned four points in two matches, we haven't accomplished anything yet. The next match will be the deciding match. We must go into the game with the aim of getting all three points and (focusing) our performance," Japan captain Makoto Hasebe said.
Hasebe insists it would be dangerous for Japan to be over-confident against the Poles. "I don't think we can go into the game looking for a draw," he said, explaining that a win would help continue their momentum for a last-16 tie against Belgium or England.
Japan have only played Poland twice in the last 22 years, beating them 5-0 in February 1996 and 2-0 in March 2002, but they will be wary of the fact they have failed to score in four of their last World Cup games against European opposition.
The last time they scored against European opponents was in a 3-1 win over Denmark in 2010.
Meanwhile, Poland winger Kamil Grosiki admits their time in Russia has been a struggle, but they must try and recover some pride in their final game after losing 2-1 to Senegal, before being totally outplayed by the Colombians.
"We couldn't even get the ball off Colombia, never mind counter against them. We've disappointed everyone, including ourselves. We came here with high hopes and huge dreams. Now we're playing the last match just for honour," Grosiki said.
Japan probable starting lineup: Eiji Kawashima; Hiroki Sakai, Maya Yoshida, Gen Shoji, Yuto Nagatomo; Makoto Hasebe, Gaku Shibasaki, Genki Haraguchi, Shinji Kagawa, Takashi Inui; Yuya Osako.
Poland probable starting lineup: Artur Jedrzejczyk; Bartosz Bereszynski, Kamil Glik, Michal Pazdan, Maciej Rybus; Grzegorz Krychowiak, Piotr Zielinski, Jakub Blaszczykowski, Karol Linetty, Kamil Grosicki; Robert Lewandowski.
Japan vs Poland 2018 FIFA World Cup Group H Match Prediction: Japan 1-1 Poland. (With IANS inputs).