Japan have exceeded Steve Rawlings' expectations while Poland have been a big disappointment, but our man is wise enough to follow the form here and go with the team with the biggest need...
"Japan are more than capable of putting the sorry Poles to the sword and I fancy they can end their group campaign in style and take all three points."
Japan v Poland
Thursday 28 June, 15:00
Live on BBC
Impressive Japan just need a point
It was hard to assess the Samurai Blues' opening fixture. The 10 men of Colombia weren't the force they would have been had Carlos Sanchez not been sent off after three minutes and Shinji Kagawa's early penalty (following Sanchez's deliberate handball) certainly put Japan in the driving seat but having been pegged back before half time, Japan organised themselves really well in the second half, dominated possession and deservedly ran out 2-1 winners.
They were even more impressive in their second match with Senegal when they again dominated possession. The Lions of Taranga took the lead twice but Japan fought like tigers to deny them. Sadio Mane's first half strike was cancelled out by a superb curling finish by Takashi Inui and Keisuke Honda squared the game again in the 78th minute after Moussa Wague had put the African side in front. It was the least Japan deserved and whatever happens in this match, they've already far exceeded my expectations.
They're technically good, very well organised, and Akira Nishino, who was only appointed manager in April, has them playing like a well-drilled team. They've impressed me and a point here would see them progress.
Lewandowski being starved, and the Poles have suffered
Following a 2-1 loss to Senegal in the first round of group games, Poland's 3-0 defeat to Colombia on Sunday has already seen them eliminated and all they're playing for now is pride. Should Japan beat them on Thursday, this would be the first Polish side to lose all three group games.
In both of the first two games they've failed miserably to provide anything but odd half-chances for their lethal forward - Robert Lewandowski - and they've been a huge disappointment.
Lewandowski scored a record-breaking 16 goals during qualification (one more than Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo) but he's barely had a sniff and his first World Cup looks like ending miserably.
Samura Blue look a decent bet to win the match
Group H has been an interesting and difficult group to asses from the start but after two games apiece, we are now starting to learn a lot more about the four teams. And two things are evidently clear - Japan have played considerably better than they were expected to, and Poland have been far worse than anticipated.
A draw - available to back at 9/4 on the Betfair Sportsbook - would see the Samurai Blue play either England or Belgium in the first knockout round but I can't see them resting on their laurels and playing for a point. They're more than capable of putting the sorry Poles to the sword and I fancy they can end their group campaign in style and take all three points. I'll be backing them to do so at 6/4.
Although an argument could be made, that now they've been eliminated, the Poles could play without fear there's been nothing in their first two games to suggest they're likely to bounce back. They've been poor from the start and opposing them here is the only logical play.
Goals at both ends perfectly feasible
All four group games to date have seen a minimum of three goals and I see no reason to think the pattern couldn't continue. There's an argument to be made that if Japan score first they could shut up shop, knowing that a point would see them through but at odds against, Over 2.5 Goals (11/10) makes more appeal than Under (4/5).
The market has switched since opening, with Yes now that 5/6 favourite in the Both Teams to Score market and I can see why. All four games have been open and entertaining matches and Poland's 3-0 defeat to Colombia is the only game that hasn't see both teams find the net but I'm happy to leave the side markets alone here and just play the favourites Japan.
The Poles really have disappointed whereas the Japanese have looked a strong and improving unit and the 6/4 on offer by the Sportsbook is perfectly fair.
Same Game Multi
If you fancy combining a couple or more scenarios to build a bet that pays handsomely, click on the Same Game Multi tab at the top of the Sportsbook market and pick two or more selections to build a wager. Given Takashi Inui has scored three goals in his last three games for Japan, my favourite for this game is Japan to win, Inui to score and Over 2.5 Goals at just over 10/1.
Steve’s World Cup Profit/Loss
Staked: 6.00 pts
Returned: 7.9 pts
P/L: +1.9 pts
Key Opta Stats for Japan v Poland
Japan have won each of their two encounters against Poland, winning 5-0 in February 1996 and 2-0 in March 2002. They are [2.62] to win.
Japan have failed to score in four of their last five World Cup games against European opponents (W1 D2 L2), with their only goals coming in a 3-1 victory over Denmark in 2010. Under 2.5 goals is [1.84].
Poland’s only World Cup meeting with an Asian side came in 2002 – losing 2-0 in the group stages against South Korea. Japan are [4.6] to win the nil.
Keisuke Honda’s goal against Senegal made him the first Japanese player to score at three different World Cup tournaments (2010, 2014, 2018). Honda is [3.3] to score.
Poland became the first European nation eliminated from the 2018 World Cup when they lost to Colombia – this is the third consecutive World Cup tournament they’ve gone out at the group stage (also 2002 and 2006). Japan are [4.2] to win half-time/full-time.
Takashi Inui has scored three goals in his last three games for Japan; this after scoring just two in his previous 26 matches for the national team. He's [5.0] to find the net.
Poland are looking to avoid losing all three of their World Cup group games for the first time. They are [1.6] to avoid defeat in the Double Chance market.
Japan haven’t gone undefeated in three consecutive World Cup games since 2002 – those three unbeaten games were all in the group stage as they qualified for Round 2. They are [3.2] to preserve their record with a draw.
Poland haven’t kept a clean sheet at the World Cup since winning 1-0 against Portugal in 1986, conceding 23 goals across 10 games since then. Over 2.5 goals is [2.08].
Japan have scored four goals at the 2018 World Cup, double the amount they managed in 2014; in only one previous tournament have they ever scored more, netting five in 2002 when they were joint-hosts with South Korea. Over 3.5 goals is [3.7].