World Cup Preview: Japan v Poland

Who? Japan - Poland
Where? Volgograd Arena, Volgograd
When? June 28, 16:00 (CET local time)

Japan (Yossi Medina)

Japan couldn't wish for a better situation to be before their last match. Japan is leading group H with four points and will face Poland. At the beginning, Poland considered as the best team in the group, but for this match they will come after they already been eliminated.

All that Japan needs to do now is to win. It wouldn't be an easy task, as Japan usually fails against European opponents. In the previous seven games against team from Europe, Japan managed to win only twice. The first was in home soil against Russia and the second was against Denmark in 2010. This defeat eventually led Japan to its last World Cup round of 16 appearance.

Five players can make history for Japan in this match. If they will play, they will made their 10th World Cup appearance and will equal Hidetoshi Nakata's record for the most capped Japanese in this tournament. These players will be Eiji Kawashima, Makoto Hasebe, Yuto Nagatomo, Shinji Okazaki and Keisuke Honda.

Japan showed its versatility during the World Cup. The games against Colombia and Senegal were two completely different matches and in both Japan had different missions. The Japanese managed to handle both the Colombian attacking style and the Senegalese mixed style. Now they will need to see how they will play against Poland.

With a lot of hope, Japan wants to do it and they can do so. If they will qualify for the next stage, it will mark another great achievement for the Japanese football.

Poland (Eden Roitfarb)

The modern Polish football team just doesn’t seem to be cut for the big tournaments. Since the 1986 World Cup, they have either been eliminated in the group stage (3 times) or haven’t even qualified (5 times). Their European Championship record has also been rather disappointing. This comes in direct contrast to their qualifying performances, who are usually attacking, impressive and inspiring. But none of these adjectives can describe their appearance vs Colombia in Kazan. The Poles lacked ideas and a backbone and were outclassed on route to a 3-0 defeat. That defeat means elimination, and the only thing left is to fight for some pride in the last match vs Japan.

Trying to explain to the Polish nation what went wrong, Robert Lewandowski said: "We fought and tried to do our best, but we couldn’t do anything more ... fighting is not enough to win World Cup matches, you also have to have quality”, perhaps hinting about the lack of service he has received from his teammates. Lewa will try to bow out from the tournament with his first ever World Cup goal, and but he is clearly disappointed with himself and his compatriots. Unsurprisingly, the future of coach Nawalka is also in doubt after the poor campaign, and he took full responsibility for the failure: “For me, this failure hurts the most, I take responsibility for it. I do not have a jumble in my head, it's sport, football”. Nawalka made some questionable decisions these World Cup. One of the bizarre one’s was to put in injured defender Kamil Glik vs Colombia down 3-0 at the 80th minute while having attacking or creative options on the bench like Arek Milik or Karol Linetty. A win vs Japan might be nice for all involved, but Poland face an uncertain future at this point.

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World Cup Preview: Poland v Colombia

Who? Poland - Colombia
Where? Kazan Arena, Kazan
When? June 24, 20:00 (CET local time)

Poland (Eden Roitfarb)

The final second round match-up for the group stages has all the characteristics to become a classic. Poland faces Colombia, and there is no result that would satisfy both. After both lost their opener, the pressure is high and only a win would be acceptable – its do or die. When you combine this fact with all the attacking talent that will be present in the Kazan Arena, and perhaps also the goalkeeping naivety, we can expect some goals.

After getting the edge over Łukasz Fabiański in goal vs Senegal, Wojciech Szczęsny produced a terrible blunder that looked more like his old Arsenal self, rather than his current status as the Juventus No. 1. While the first goal was cruel and unlucky for Poland, the second one had Polish fans embarrassed and disappointed. They have expected more from the team.

One of these fans is Wojciech’s father and a former national goalie himself, Maciej, who blasted the player's performance - including his own son and leader Robert Lewandowski. According to dad, the younger Szczęsny was moving “as if to a liquor store”, and that Lewa “was probably not even on the field in the first half”.

Wojciech hasn’t responded to these comments, and the question is whether he will have the chance to do so on the pitch or whether coach Adam Nawałka will reinstate Fabiański to the lineup. Fabiański has signed this week for West Ham United from Swansea City and was one of the few bright spots in the Swans’ relegation campaign after producing a great individual season.

Another visible problem for the Polish was the absence of defender Kamil Glik. Although dressed and on the bench vs Senegal, it is likely he has not yet received a green light from team doctors to play, but that may change come Sunday due to the match importance.

Colombia (Idan Seggev)

No one, not even the most pessimist fans, could imagine this debut of Colombia in the World Cup. Except for the defeat, it was the horrible match that the team played which should concern the players, the staff and the fans. From a team with the potential to reach the quarter-final, Colombia lost to Japan and will play a crucial match against Poland in order to avoid elimination. More bad news? For Poland, it will be crucial as well, since they lost to Senegal. Prepare yourself for a World War III at the beautiful Kazan Arena stadium.

One change will be for sure in Colombia's lineup for Sunday match – Carlos Sanchez won't be in it. The midfielder who was sent off after only three minutes will be replaced most probably by Wilmar Barrios, although it still wasn't confirmed by Pekerman. There will be several questions due to the poor performance versus the Japanese:  Will Pekerman use again his center-back duo after their horrible form, especially Davinson Sanchez? Just a reminder, Colombia still has on the bench players like Yerry Mina and experienced Cristian Zapata. Another question is whether Muriel will start over Izquierdo who disappointed a lot? People will ask even if Mojica will receive more credit in such crucial match or will it be the 34-year-old veteran Farid Diaz?

The most important question will be if James Rodriguez 100% fit and start the match? When he entered in the second half against Japan, he looked more like 50% fit and was very slow. If he won't be completely able to play, It will be Juan Quintero again.

The answers to these questions will be given only few hours before the match just like Pekerman does always. This way or another, there's no second chance for Los Cafeteros who must win in order to keep their dream alive.

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World Cup Preview: Poland v Senegal

Who? Poland - Senegal
Where? Otkritie Arena, Moscow
When? June 19, 17:00 (CET local time)

Poland (Eden Roitfarb)

With the tournament being held at unpopular old rival Russia, Poland would hope to bring many fans to the nearby country that would push the team forward. Additionally, they also come with a loaded squad, notwithstanding some problems: Robert Lewandowski needs no introduction but is dealing with ongoing transfer rumors and his future in FC Bayern is unknown at the time. The Biało-Czerwoni need him focused and free-minded in order to succeed. Another issue is the condition of defensive anchor Kamil Glik, who injured his shoulder in training after attempting an irresponsible bicycle kick. Originally the belief was that he is going to miss the tournament, but currently his status is questionable.

Traditionally, a very strong position for the Poles is between the posts. The previous generation of Jerzy Dudek and Artur Boruc was succeeded by current top two Wojciech Szczęsny and
Łukasz Fabiański. The competition between them is ongoing for years as they played together in Arsenal and Legia Warszawa, and it is still widely unknown who coach Adam Nawałka will pick for number 1. Both have valid cases: Fabiański played more games this season and was great with Swansea City, but was ultimately relegated. Szczęsny played in a higher level for Juventus and was an understudy for legendary Gigi Buffon but recorded less appearances. To add confusion, both played 45 minutes each in last week’s friendlies, as it looks this decision would go down to the wire. Whichever goalkeeper will get the national responsibility, the Polish have a pair of gloves that can be trusted.

Senegal (Omri Tancman)

Senegal and Poland share some similarities. Both rely heavily on an attacking star player, Mane for Senegal and Lewandowski for Poland. Both present one of the fiercest midfields in their confederation. Poland won 63% of its challenges, which is the third best after Spain and Portugal in Europe. In Africa, Senegal was the most efficient tackling team with a winning rate of 61% of the tackles.

It might not be surprising that Senegal is very strong in tackling and in other attributes related to dedication and combat in midfield. This may result from the image shown by Senegal manager, Aliou Cisse. Cisse, Senegal’s captain in its first World Cup in 2002 was a strong commanding central midfielder. His charisma and know-how are well reflected in the toughness presented in the current Senegalese game.

But other than preaching for strength and commitment, Cisse’s role before Senegal’s match against Poland is far greater than tactical preparation and motivational speeches. Cisse was there. He led Senegal to its greatest win of all time against France and he encapsulates great memories from Senegal’s legendary campaign in 2002. Therefore, 16 years later and before the return of Senegal to the biggest stage of football, Cisse is a real time testimony for the capabilities of Senegalese football. When looking at the bench during the chant of the national anthems, what Senegalese players might see is not just their coach, but an inspiration that can lift them for further glory.

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