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Senegal Have the Measure of Japan in Group H

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June 22, 2018
Senegal took three points from Poland in their opening game

Japan v Senegal, Sunday 24th June, 16:00

Who saw this coming? Japan v Senegal being the titanic battle of the group’s top two – both, realistically, just a win away from a place in the knockout stages. And this is why Group H is shaping up to be the pick of the bunch.

Some will point to Japan benefitting from Colombia going down to ten men after just three minutes – and of course, this had a big impact on the game – but make no mistake, the Japanese played with verve, energy and skill. They were good value for the win.

In front of goal, they showed calmness – Shinji Kagawa’s early penalty set the tone perfectly – and when Yuya Osako’s header settled the outcome, it was no more than they deserved.

Head coach Akira Nishino spoke afterwards of how he’d asked his team to “keep the ball moving” in order to stretch the ten men of Colombia, and they did it superbly, even if it took them until the 73rd minute to grab the winner. In securing the win, Japan became the first Asian side to beat South American opposition in the World Cup finals.

Now faced with African opposition, we expect them to play with that same verve and energy but now with an added level of confidence and, almost certainly, they will cause problems for the Senegalese.

In not dissimilar circumstances to Japan, Senegal also made the most of a couple of moments of good fortune in their first-round game. For their opening goal against Poland, defender Thiago Cionek deflected an Idrissa Gueye shot past the helpless Wojciech Szczesny, and their second arrived in even more bizarre circumstances, when a mix-up between Grzegorz Krychowiak, Jan Bednarek and (again) Szczesny, left M’Baye Niang – who had just re-entered the field of play – with an open goal.

In the words of their coach, Aliou Cisse, their performance was “disciplined, compact and aggressive”, and he was right to claim they were deserving of their slices of good fortune. Few would argue with that analysis, even though they had less of the ball than the Poles – the possession stat surely being one of the most over-rated in football.

Against the Japanese, we should expect more of the same, with the Senegalese probably surrendering possession in the hope of utilising their pace and power to catch Japan on the break. In Niang – who had loan spells with Watford and Torino before joining AC Milan – they have someone who can help lift the creative burden off the shoulders of Liverpool star Sadio Mane.

Given that neither side was fancied ahead of the tournament, this is a tricky one to call but there may be a clue in their three previous meetings: two wins for Senegal and one draw. In many ways, it could come down to how well Japan can handle the pace of Mane. Fail to do that and they could be in for a tricky evening.

Colombia Could Shade a Tight Match against Poland

Colombia expected to shade tight match against Poland

Poland v Colombia, Sunday 24th June, 19:00

Neither side expected to be staring down the barrel as early as their second game of the tournament, but that’s where Poland and Colombia find themselves after losing their first games. Both are in recovery mode, with defeat almost certain to spell an end to their tournament almost before it has begun.

For the Poles, it was a couple of defensive disasters that were their undoing against the Senegalese. First up was an own goal when Thiago Cionek deflected a shot past his own keeper, Wojciech Szczesny, but this was merely the aperitif for what was to follow, when a three-way defensive mix-up left M’Baye Niang with the simple task of running the ball into an empty net.

Despite a late header from Grzegorz Krychowiak, there was no way back for the Poles and there were generally few positives to draw on. As it transpired, the huge number of Poland supporters in the stadium acted as a burden rather than a boost and, despite having more of the ball against a very disciplined Senegalese side, Poland had few complaints.

Their head coach Adam Nawalka pulled no punches and directly called out his wingers and central midfield, who he simply said, “weren’t very good”. Another listless display of that ilk and the Poles will be going home. From somewhere they need to find some energy and belief.

But, if they need a positive to cling on to, the Colombians find themselves in a similar boat. They too suffered a miserable afternoon first time out, with things going spectacularly wrong for them as early as the third minute. While it was Carlos Sanchez who finally saw red – for handling a goal-bound effort – it was his defensive partner and namesake, Tottenham’s Davinson Sanchez, who was responsible for the original error and who effectively precipitated their nightmare opening.

From that moment it was an uphill struggle, and that Kagawa scored the resultant spot-kick was a double-whammy. They did however show character to pull level and for long spells, it was difficult to tell which side had only ten men.

Coach Jose Pekerman was in pragmatic mood afterwards and was able to identify a few positives. “We lost because we were worn down, we were tired,” was his reasoning for defeat. So, in some ways, despite an opening defeat, only the Colombians have any real mitigation and for that reason, we make them slight favourites in this crucial clash.

It could, and probably will, boil down to a battle between two great strikers – Radamel Falcao for Columbia and Robert Lewandowski for Poland – but with the South Americans likely to have a fully-fit James Rodriguez restored to their midfield, this could give them a vital edge.

But it will be tight – as previous meetings between the two countries have shown (Colombia three wins, Poland two) – and, with both teams’ chances of progression on a knife edge, expect it to be won by the odd goal.

About the author

Eric Roberts
Eric Roberts

Sports Journalist

Eric has been a sports journalist for over 20 years and has travelled the world covering top sporting events for a number of publications. He also has a passion for betting and uses his in-depth knowledge of the sports world to pinpoint outstanding odds and value betting opportunities.