VOLGOGRAD, Russia (Reuters) - Japan are quietly confident ahead of Thursday’s decisive World Cup game, but coach Akira Nishino warned that “world-class” striker Robert Lewandowski will be gunning for a goal to salvage eliminated Poland’s pride.
The Samurai Blue need just a draw to advance to the knockout rounds after they beat Colombia and drew with Senegal in their opening Group H games, defying low expectations at the start of the tournament.
In contrast, Poland’s Lewandowski, who scored 16 goals in qualifying, has failed to find the net in the first two games.
“There is no such thing as a consolation match or that the match does not matter,” Nishino told reporters on Wednesday.
“I am sure Poland would like to play for their pride. Lewandowski is a world class marksman. I am sure he will come out trying to score.”
The teams will also have to deal with Volgograd’s sweltering temperatures - which could approach 40 degrees Celsius (104°F) before the game.
“When I landed yesterday I was surprised how humid it was. Today, however, I do not think the team’s physical condition is very much affected by that. I think because we have had pretty good results so far, the players do not feel so tired,” Nishino said.
Those positive results have led to “good confidence” in the team and Nishino promised his players would play dynamic, attacking football.
Nishino specifically lauded “fantastic” midfielder Takashi Inui, who scored one goal and set up the other as Japan twice fought back from behind to draw 2-2 with Senegal on Monday.
“To be honest with you, Inui is showing a performance that was beyond our expectation. He has his unique dribbling capability and he can switch very well between defence and offence ... And he positions himself very well. Also he can finish the ball and find the net,” added Nishino.
Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, meanwhile, is hoping Lewandowski stays far away from his goal.
“We need to mark him well and we need counter measures. In terms of a penalty kick from Lewandowski? I hope that there will be no opportunity!” Kawashima laughed.
Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer, editing by Ed Osmond