Japan boss Akira Nishino has warned his players there is no such thing as a World Cup dead rubber as they attempt to book their place in the last 16 against Poland.
Nishino’s men head into their final Group H clash tantalisingly close to their objective, but wary of the wounded Poles, who are going home regardless of what happens in Volgograd on Thursday afternoon.
Star man Robert Lewandowski has endured a disappointing time by his own high standards in the first two games, but the Japanese are well aware that his quest to open his account for the tournament will go on until his final kick of the game.
Nishino said: “There’s no such thing as a match that doesn’t matter. I’m sure Poland will play for their pride, and then there is Lewandowski, who is a world-class marksman and I’m sure he will come out to score a goal, so we have to deal with that mentally.
“Poland qualified from a very tough European group, but we have had two very tough matches and we still earned points and that has to give us confidence.
“There may be some issues with the conditions, but we will aim to keep hold of the ball as much as possible and continue with Japan-like football.”
A 2-1 victory over Colombia and a 2-2 draw with Senegal have given Japan a platform to reach the last 16, although keeper Eiji Kawashima is refusing to take anything for granted.
He said: “I know the Poland team is full of good players starting with Lewandowski. As a team, they are very organised and at the centre is Lewandowski and of course, we need to mark him well.
“As a group we have to defend well to counter the threat he poses.”
With Japan, Senegal and Colombia locked in a three-way battle to emerge from the group, only pointless Poland have no chance, something they did not anticipate after easing to qualification ahead of Denmark.
However, midfielder Jakub Blaszczkowski is in no mood to return home without making an impression on the tournament, if belatedly.
He said: “It’s not an easy moment for us psychologically-speaking. Each and every member of the team realises that we have not fulfilled our task.
“We had our own dreams, but events on the pitch have proven otherwise. We have invested a lot to be here in Russia during this World Cup and we had much greater expectations of ourselves.
“But life goes on and the match tomorrow will be of great significance, particularly from a mental point of view because we need to demonstrate that we never give up as a team.
“In the last four years, we have provided a lot of positive emotions to football fans, so we remember those moments and those moments will be of great importance to us when we are on the pitch tomorrow.
“We want to demonstrate that we are a bunch of guys who never give up.”