MOSCOW – Japan has been presented with a chance for revenge in its opening match of next year’s World Cup after being drawn against Colombia, Senegal and Poland in first-round Group H on Friday.
The last team to be picked from the pots in the draw at the Kremlin, Japan kicks off their its consecutive finals on June 19 in Saransk against Colombia, which eliminated the four-time Asian champions from the World Cup in Brazil in 2014.
Vahid Halilhodzic’s side then plays Senegal in Ekaterinburg on June 24 and Poland in Volgograd on June 28.
“We could have been drawn in an even more difficult group but we won’t know what this group is like until we play these teams,” said Halilhodzic.
At the last World Cup, Japan lost to Cote d’Ivoire, drew with Greece and its campaign ended with a 4-1 hammering by the Colombians in their final group stage game.
Japan has lost two and drawn one of its previous three meetings against Colombia.
“The key to advancing will be our opening game against Colombia,” said Halilhodzic. “It’s a coincidence because I was just watching footage of one of their games a few days ago. For Japan it will be a chance to get revenge for the last World Cup.
“It is a group in which each team has a different style of soccer,” added Halilhodzic, who took Algeria to the round of 16 in Brazil, the country’s best ever result in the finals.
“I know a lot about Senegal and know they are a physical team and have many players that stand over two meters tall. In (Bayern Munich forward Robert) Lewandowski, Poland have a player regarded as one of the top goal getters in the world, and they will be a tough opponent.
“We have seven months to set a target, work towards that goal, and prepare ourselves with determination,” he said.
Kozo Tashima, the president of the Japan Football Association, also picked the Colombia game as the Blue Samurai’s most important.
“Whoever you are drawn against there are no easy games … but I think the most crucial game will be against Colombia,” he said.
Japan has also drawn once and lost twice against Senegal, but has beaten Poland twice.
The opening match of the tournament is on June 14 between host Russia and Saudi Arabia at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, while the final will be played at the same venue on July 15.
Japan, which made its debut at the World Cup in France in 1998, has only gone beyond the group phase twice.
Under Frenchman Philippe Troussier, Japan made the second round before a loss to Turkey in the 2002 finals the country cohosted with South Korea.
Japan also reached the last 16 for the first time on foreign soil under Takeshi Okada but lost on penalty kicks to Paraguay at the 2010 finals in South Africa.