Many did not expect all that much from the Asian sides at Russia 2018, especially Japan. They entered amid a ton of turmoil with late managerial changes and uncertain tactical alignments, but a convincing win over Colombia in their first match has turned Group H on its collective head.
Standing in their way in Group H is the other winning side, Senegal. The Senegalese looked fast and elusive in their opening match vs. Poland, regularly troubling them with their speed and attacking prowess when on the ball. Senegal were a popular dark-horse entering the tournament, and can further solidify that status with another solid outing against Japan.
This should be a match that ultimately decides an ultra-competitive Group H, and should a side emerge victorious between Japan and Senegal – it would definitely make for an excellent story going forward. Read on below for a tactical preview of this fixture, as well as an official betting selection for the match.
Japan vs. Senegal Betting Odds:
Over 2 (-122)
Under 2 (+102)
Japan vs. Senegal Pick:
Following both of these squads registering unlikely victories in their opening matches, it has now put extra emphasis on the all-important second game of the group stage.
For Japan, they were likely predicted by many to finish last in a tough Group H – but a red card went against Colombia in the opening minutes, and the Japanese were able to take full advantage. That victory was also historic, in that Japan became the first-ever Asian nation to defeat a South American opponent at a World Cup. Though they didn’t look particularly strong even up a man – they did what they needed to do to secure a full three points, and now face a glorious opportunity to seize the group.
Senegal stand in their way though, and they will prove to be an incredibly tough opponent for the Japanese. In their opening game, the Lions of Teranga were lethal on the counterattack, with their attacking pace and speed on full display. They were solid in defense, led by Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly, and their blistering pace out wide with Sadio Mane and the young Ismaila Sarr will prove to be a handful for any defensive unit. It’s also expected that manager Aliou Cisse will get even younger and quicker for the game vs. Japan as striker Moussa Konate will likely get a starting position after a promising first match as a substitute vs. Poland. The Senegalese can attack with the best of them, and that could spell trouble for Japan.
Full marks to Japan for doing what they were expected to in their first game vs. Colombia. They took full advantage of playing up a man and won the match. However, it’s worth noting that James Rodriguez did not start for Colombia, and had that red card perhaps been a yellow card – I think the match could’ve played out quite differently.
I think Japan will show that they lack key elements of skill and physicality in this contest. There is a decisive disparity in terms of speed and athleticism between these sides, and I think the Blue Samurai will have a lot of difficulty managing their size and aggression. Senegal has many players listed as over six-feet, and that should give them a huge advantage in the air and attacking in the Japanese 18-yard box. Senegal has also proven to be dominant and elusive on set-pieces in qualifying, and that could again play a role against a smaller and slower Japanese group.
Senegal enter this match brimming with confidence. Though they’re young and might make mistakes in this match, Japan isn’t skilled enough to take advantage on a regular basis. The speed and creativity out wide of Mane and Sarr cannot be contested by anybody on Japan, and their strikers should make use of big aerial advantages over the Japanese defense. Look for Senegal to punch their ticket to the Round of 16 in a highly entertaining encounter.
MY PICK = Senegal (+135)