SAMARA • Japan defender Maya Yoshida has hailed the fearlessness of coach Akira Nishino as the Japanese go into today's decisive Group H match against an already-eliminated Poland, knowing a draw would be enough to advance to the World Cup last 16.
But the team's philosophy under Nishino has been an attacking one and they are likely to go for the win against the disappointing Poles instead of settling for just a point.
"The coach is unbelievably brave," said Yoshida, who plays for Premier League side Southampton, told Kyodo News after training at Japan's base camp in Kazan.
"When all was not well with the team, (Nishino) changed players in friendlies and (he also) tried that offside trap on this massive stage. I don't think that is something you can do easily.
"Obviously we are targeting the round of 16. We have built confidence from the last two games (beating Colombia 2-1 and a 2-2 draw with Senegal), motivation is high and players who haven't featured in the last two games are determined to get some action."
Nishino promised attacking football when he took over in April and his side have obliged in Russia, with four goals scored and a hatful of chances created.
"I really wanted to win," the coach said after his side came from behind twice against Senegal and equalised in the 78th minute.
GROUP H PERMUTATIONS
Senegal v Colombia
Singtel TV Ch141 & StarHub Ch222, 10pm
Japan v Poland
Ch142 & Ch223, 9.50pm
A draw with Poland is enough to advance to the last 16.
A draw with Colombia will see them through.
Need to beat Senegal.
"We wanted to get the lead even though there was only a short period of time left."
Japan's task is likely to be made easier by the bitterly disappointing form of their opponents, who have lost both their games and have scored just once. But Yoshida is taking nothing for granted.
"Poland have come here carrying the hopes of a nation and their players will think there is no way they can go home with three defeats, so we can expect a tough match. But no matter how tough it will get, we want to get a result," he said.
"One thing is clear. If we lose, we (could) be going home to Japan. Everyone is well aware of that."
Japan have a perfect record against Poland in their only two meetings - a 5-0 win in 1996 and a 2-0 victory in 2002.
The Poles, eighth in the Fifa rankings, have failed to live up to their strong World Cup qualifying campaign when they topped their group with just one loss.
Much of their success had come courtesy of Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, who scored 16 goals in qualifying and went to Russia as Poland's main man.
He has failed to live up to that billing, drawing a blank in his first two matches in Russia, lending credence to doubts about his ability to perform on the biggest of stages.
"Many things did not go as they should during this World Cup," the 29-year-old said. "I was alone, we fought, I fought, I did everything I could, but fighting is not enough to win World Cup matches, you also have to have quality, and we had too little of that."
Lewandowski has, however, urged his team to salvage some pride after their sorry campaign saw them becoming the first European side to be eliminated.
"We will continue playing the best we can, continue representing Poland and continue being proud of doing that," he said.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE