Japan v Senegal
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KAZAN • Midfielder Keisuke Honda believes Japan might have to "fool" Senegal with a crafty game if they are to get past the Africans in their World Cup Group H clash today.
Japan, level with Senegal on three points, are seeking their second victory in Russia after starting with a 2-1 win over 10-man Colombia.
"We understand what their strengths are but will be looking to exploit their weaknesses," the 32-year-old told Japanese reporters at the team's base in Kazan. "We can fool them if we are crafty. I also get the impression we can target their goalkeeper (Khadim Ndiaye). I am sure the key will be set pieces."
Mexico-based Honda will look to extend his scoring record against African teams at the World Cup, having slotted the winner against Cameroon during the 2010 World Cup and netted in a 2-1 loss to Ivory Coast in Brazil four years ago.
But Senegal come into the match equally high on confidence after a strong defensive display in Moscow helped them neutralise the Polish attack led by Robert Lewandowski.
Japan defender Yuto Nagatomo knows it will not be easy to breakdown Senegal's defence during open play while being mindful of the threat they pose on the counter.
"Their speed and physicality is something I expected, but what stood out was their discipline," he said. "They moved as a connected unit, with every piece interlocking.
"There is an impression sometimes that African teams, while having great individual talent, have a weakness when it comes to organisation, but there is little sign of that.
"Everyone has a high awareness of defence and they are outstanding on the counter-attack."
Few expected the Ekaterinburg fixture to be the top-of-the-table clash, while Colombia and Poland fight for their tournament lives in Kazan today.
Colombia's preparations have been hampered by a police investigation into death threats made against midfielder Carlos Sanchez. In a grisly echo of the killing of Andres Escobar, who was gunned down after scoring an own goal for Colombia at the 1994 World Cup, Sanchez received threats on social media after receiving a red card for a deliberate handball in their opener.
His suspension is likely to lead to a start for Mateus Uribe. But questions remain over whether talisman James Rodriguez will also take his place in midfield. The playmaker was a 59th-minute substitute against Japan as he recovers from a calf problem.
"It will be like a final," said Colombia striker Radamel Falcao. "Each team will battle hard to keep the ball, and will close down the space for their opponents to operate in."