World Cup Group H: Can high-flying Japan keep Poland on the ground?
Group H has certainly provided us with the most surprises to date. Before the World Cup, the smart money would have been on a Colombia/Poland one-two. However, it's these two international powerhouses that are sitting in third and fourth place respectively.
In the final group H fixtures, Poland takes on Japan, whereas Colombia will go toe-to-toe with Senegal. Today, we're taking a closer look at the former; with plenty still to play for.
Japan sitting at the top of Group H after two games is a massive shock. Sure, they were helped by Colombian naivety when Carlos Sanchez saw red for handling in the area, but the Asian team still had to stick the ball in the back of the net and overcome the sixteenth best side in international football.
As for Poland, they've been nothing short of disastrous. Robert Lewandowski has barely had any opportunities to stick the ball into the back of the net, and the team as a whole has just looked lethargic. Their World Cup campaign is already over, with only pride left to play for.
With a victory or draw, Japan would guarantee themselves with a place in the last sixteen. They'll be going all-out to beat Poland, though, as that should see them top the group. If they lose and the Senegal/Colombia game ends in a draw, there is the possibility that Japan will be heading home, with Colombia having the better goal-difference.
The last meeting between the sides took place over fifteen years ago, with Japan winning that match 2-0 back in March 2002.
This game will be played at the beautiful Volgograd Arena, a purpose-built stadia with a 45,000 capacity.
FIFA Ranking: 61st
Every major tournament comes with a surprise or two. In a tough group, everyone expected Japan to be the whipping boys. Instead, the boys from the Land of the Rising Sun have been superb. Before Russia 2018 they'd never won a game on European soil. Now, they're in with a real chance at progressing through Group H.
Although not littered with stars, Japan have some wonderful technically gifted footballers; led by Shinji Kagawa. The former Manchester United man has been brilliant in the #10 role, just slotting in-behind the striker. They simply don't need to make any changes to their starting line-up, while their tactics should remain the same. Hitting Poland on the counter-attack should provide Japan with some key chances, and they'll be relying on their forwards to be clinical when in the right areas.
The good thing about Akira Nishino's side is that he has attacking options on the bench. Everyone knows that Japan legend Keisuke Honda is good for a goal from time-to-time, whereas Shinji Okazaki's hard-work, energy and effort can completely change the outlook of any given football match.
FIFA Ranking: 8th
The 4-2-3-1 just hasn't been working for Adam Nawalka, with Lewandowski being completely starved of any clear-cut chances. He's their star man, and surely it makes sense to put the Bayern Munich striker in the best positions possible? That hasn't happened, and the blame for that much fall at the manager's door-step.
Defensively, Poland have been awful. It's pretty clear that Kamil Glik isn't anywhere near fully fit, and he wasn't alone in being exposed by the lightning pace that Colombia brought to the table during the South Americans' 3-0 victory.
Forget personnel. I'd just like to see Poland play with some heart and desire. From their opening game loss to Senegal, they've looked a beaten team before a ball has been kicked. There has been no passion, desire or determination to fight for their country, and that's been immensely disappointing to watch, as I thought they had serious potential to cause an upset or two.
Perhaps this tournament came a couple of years too late. All their star players, like Jakub Blaszczykowski and Lukas Piszczek seem to be on the decline. Before the next European Championships, there is much work to be done.
This one's tough to pick. Japan will be brimming with confidence, whereas Poland's players are down in the dumps. However, due to the fact that I'm expecting Japan to head into this one with the mindset of not getting beat, I believe that could be their undoing.
Although it's been a forgettable tournament for Poland, I fancy them to end on a high and secure three-points. That'll leave Japan with an anxious wait, but they should still qualify; likely to be as runners-up.