YEKATERINBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Japan will mark Senegal’s Sadio Mane with up to three players in Sunday’s World Cup Group H clash but his influence will still run deep throughout the African side, Japanese head coach Akira Nishino believes.
The clash in Yekaterinburg will feature an intriguing battle between Liverpool’s Mane and Japanese defender Maya Yoshida, former team mates at Southampton, but Nishino said his entire defence and midfield was well briefed on the opposing striker.
Whether the marking on Mane was man-to-man or three-to-one, the danger remained in the way his contribution could aid the flow of the entire team and help Senegal move the ball around.
“It’s possible to stop him, but he has an influence on the other players and that’s what we are concerned about,” Nishino said.
Both sides are approaching the match with confidence after winning their opening games — Japan 2-1 against Colombia, and Senegal by the same margin against Poland.
Nishino repeatedly emphasised the speed, physicality and organisation of the Senegal team and said the smaller Japanese would need to adapt their gameplan accordingly.
“For the past several days, I have been telling my players to gain five centimetres and five kilograms but it failed, so we need other measures,” he joked. “Of course there is a ball, and through using the ball we are going to take on Senegal.
“If there’s a lot of physical contact then we will be at a disadvantage, therefore we will have to make some variations and then we can use our quickness. We need to move the ball well.
“The (Senegal) weak point? I can’t come up with that at the moment, so rather than physicality, we have to use our brain to come up with some tactics and strategies.”
Japan secured just one point at the last World Cup in Brazil four years ago, and are trying to make it to the knockout stage for only the third time in their history.
Nishino, appointed only in April, said he would probably stick to a similar starting lineup to the one used against Colombia.
“We are not fearful of Senegal at all,” he said. “We’re much looking forward to the match, how we are going to beat them, and I’d like to show you how tomorrow.”
Additional reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar; Editing by Ian Chadband