Japan will take on Poland in their final FIFA World Cup Group H match in Volgograd on Thursday, in a clash between one of the tournament's surprise packages and one of its most shocking underachievers. Few would have expected Japan to be the potential group winners, with the Poles facing an embarrassingly early trip home.

Japan are on four points after defeating Colombia 2-1 and drawing 2-2 with Senegal, while the Poles have no points and just one goal. It beggars belief that a Poland side who were widely regarded as dark horses before the tournament have underperformed so drastically.

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It all looked so promising for Adam Nawalka's side. Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski broke the record for goals scored in a European World Cup qualifying campaign, netting 16 times as the Poles qualified in style. They did lose 4-0 to Denmark, but that result was written off as an aberration - especially seeing as Poland won three of their five warm-up matches, albeit against Montenegro, South Korea and Lithuania.

That humbling defeat by Denmark doesn't look like a freak result now, after Poland's dismal losses against Senegal (1-2) and Colombia (0-3) in their first two World Cup matches in Russia.

Japan's World Cup experience has been the exact opposite of Poland's. Admittedly, they won their qualifying group, but they dropped ten points in the process - and to give an idea of how weak their group was, Saudi Arabia were only one point behind them. Their form in friendlies in 2018 was also poor - they won just one of five matches and lost three in a row.

The Japanese seem to have found their form at just the right time, earning a shock win over Colombia - who conceded a penalty and had a player sent off within the first few minutes - before coming from behind to draw with Senegal.

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Team News


Neither manager has any injury worries or suspensions to deal with, but both sides have several players on yellow cards. Not that it particularly matters for the Poles, but it is a significant issue for Japan. Three key players - goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, captain Makoto Hasebe and attacking midfielder Takashi Inui - are all one yellow card away from a suspension.

With nothing to lose, Poland manager Nawalka may give starts to squad players and revert to a 4-2-3-1 formation, after witnessing the abject failure of his 3-4-3 approach against Colombia.

Predicted Lineups:

Japan (4-2-3-1): Eiji Kawashima; Hiroki Sakai, Maya Yoshida, Gen Shoji, Yuto Nagatomo; Makoto Hasebe, Gaku Shibasaki, Genki Haraguchi, Shinji Kagawa, Takashi Inui; Yuya Osako.

Poland (4-2-3-1): Artur Jedrzejczyk; Bartosz Bereszynski, Kamil Glik, Michal Pazdan, Maciej Rybus; Grzegorz Krychowiak, Piotr Zielinski, Jakub Blaszczykowski, Karol Linetty, Kamil Grosicki; Robert Lewandowski.

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A False Dawn for Poland?


How depressing Poland's performances in Russia must be for Zbigniew Boniek. Now the head of the Polish Football Federation, the former Poland striker scored a hat trick against Belgium in the 1982 World Cup, in which Poland finished third.

Poland's record since that golden era has been underwhelming at best - at least, until the current generation. Spearheaded by Lewandowski, they reached the last eight of the 2016 European Championship.

Poland fans can be forgiven for wondering how a side who promised so much for this summer's tournament could end up delivering so little.

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Predicted Result


Despite their abject form, Poland still have a number of highly talented players who could potentially trouble Japan in their final group game. When a team has nothing but pride to play for, it can sometimes have a liberating effect.

Nevertheless, as long as Japan don't lose their nerve, they will most likely book their place in the round of 16 for only the third time in their history - where they could potentially face England.

Predicted Result: Japan 2-1 Poland