Soccer / World Cup

Shinji Okazaki says Japan expects difficult match as Poland seeks to salvage pride

Kyodo

Japan is expecting an all-out effort from a Poland side with nothing but pride on the line in its final World Cup group match, forward Shinji Okazaki said Tuesday.

Coming into the tournament eighth in the FIFA rankings, many pundits picked Poland to finish top of Group H, with some tipping them to make an even bigger impact at a World Cup staged close to home.

However, after a 2-1 loss to Senegal and a 3-0 thrashing by Colombia in their first two matches, the Europeans will be heading home regardless of the result against Japan in Volgograd on Thursday.

Though their fate is already decided, the Poles’ world-class talent, including star Bayern Munich forward Robert Lewandowski, means they remain a force to be reckoned with, Okazaki said.

“You saw yesterday with Morocco (drawing 2-2 with Spain) that no team is going to give you an easy time at this tournament,” the Leicester forward said.

“Our situation is by no means safe, everybody in the team is well aware of that. Poland are a tough team and that is why they are ranked eighth in the world. We have to approach this match the same way we did the first two.”

The Samurai Blue can book their spot in the round of 16 with a draw in Volgograd. They could even advance if they lose to Poland, provided Senegal beats Colombia in the other final group match in Samara, which will be played simultaneously.

With Japan head coach Akira Nishino reportedly considering lineup changes because of player fatigue, Okazaki could be in line for a start against Poland, given the heavy workload undertaken by striker Yuya Osako in the team’s first two matches.

Nishino sent out an identical 11 for Japan’s 2-1 win over Colombia and 2-2 draw with Senegal, but is looking at changes for the clash with Poland, sources inside the Samurai Blue camp said Tuesday.

With two intense group matches already under their belt, and just four days’ turnaround following the meeting with Senegal in Yekaterinburg, the impact of player fatigue is weighing on the coach’s mind, sources said.

In a practice session at their World Cup base in Kazan on Tuesday, players who saw significant game time against Senegal undertook light, recovery-focused training following the tough battle in which the four-time Asian champions twice came back from a goal down.

Japan has won both of its two previous matches against Poland — a 5-0 win in Hong Kong in 1996, and a 2-0 triumph in Lodz, Poland in 2002.

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