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World Cup Group H: Japan, Senegal to boss the group? There goes your bracket
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World Cup Group H: Japan, Senegal to boss the group? There goes your bracket

Sunday 24th June 2018

Heading into the tournament, not many would have expected Japan and Senegal to be ahead in group H after the first round of matches. The Japanese started their game against Columbia on the offensive. It paid instant dividends. Yuya Osako breached the Columbian defence after only three minutes. David Ospina saved his shot but it rebounded to Shinji Kagawa, whose goal-bound follow-up shot was illegally blocked when Carlos Sanchez stretched out his arm. There was only one outcome; his dismissal followed by a penalty.

Japan converted then made the man advantage count. Columbia battled to level in the 39th minute but playing a man light for 84 minutes proved an overwhelming task. The Samurai Blue ran out with a 2-1 win.

Senegal remains one of three African teams to have reached the World Cup quarterfinal. The team started their journey in Russia strongly, raising the continent's hope after other representatives had all but extinguished it. Like Japan, the Teranga Lions won 2-1 against Poland, albeit at even strength. 

Colombia and Poland were tipped to progress from the group. But either of Japan or Senegal has a unique opportunity to pick the first slot and make an unlikely escape with a win today. Ekaterinburg should be entertained as both sides look to win the group with a match to spare.

Japan

FIFA Ranking: 61st

Japan came into the World Cup with limited expectations. They had never won a World Cup game on European soil before defeating Colombia. The Asians will need to be at their best again to beat Aliou Cisse's men, having never beaten Senegal. In three previous friendlies, Senegal has won twice and drawn once.

If their performance against Columbia is any indication, the Japanese are in the mood to break records in Russia. With the win, Akira Nishino's charges also became the first Asian side to beat a South American team in a FIFA World Cup.

Nishino is expected to keep faith with the starting line-up that did such a remarkable job against Columbia. Recovered from injury, Leicester's Shinji Okazaki can be called upon if FC Koln striker Yuya Osako fails to replicate his match-winning performance. Okazaki's energy could be needed in the final stages, especially if Japan need a goal.

Senegal

FIFA Ranking: 27th

Senegal did themselves and the African continent a world of good with their performance against fancied Poland. Playing as underdogs, the Lions of Teranga gave a good account of themselves. They improved on the best win rate of any African team in the tournament. The West Africans have won three of their six World Cup matches so far.

With only five goals conceded in their last nine matches, the Senegalese have a solid defence. And with an attack that features Liverpool's Sadio Mane, they can be expected to split Japan's defence open at some point in the match. They can also make history by beating Japan, having never faced an Asian team in the World Cup despite playing in South Korea and Japan in 2002. Victory will mean they become only the third African side to win their first two matches in the competition, joining the Cameroonians from 1990, and Nigeria's 1998 squad.

Prediction

Brimming with confidence after winning their first games, both sides will approach this contest with optimism. Each knows a win punches ticket to the knockout stages but a loss will not be fatal. While motivated to go for the jugular early, both may settle for a draw if things prove difficult. With three points already in the bag, there will still be a chance to progress with results in their final matches.

 

Emmanuel Odey

Emmanuel is a freelance football journalist who lives and breathes the round leather game. He is a contributor on several platforms. You can follow him on Twitter for more.


Total articles: 288

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