Japan and Senegal are the surprise Group H frontrunners after the opening wave of matches following wins over Colombia and Poland respectively.
The duo now clash at the Central Stadium in Yekaterinburg on Sunday, knowing that the winners would have an excellent chance of making the knockout stages of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
In their opening game Japan became the first country from their continent to topple South American opposition at the World Cup in a whopping 18 attempts after they edged out Colombia 2-1. The Japanese did benefit from having an extra player for 87 minutes with Yuya Osako grabbing the game’s winner in the 73rd minute.
If Akira Nishino’s men come out on top on Sunday they will become the first Asian nation to open up a World Cup campaign with back-to-back wins.
Meanwhile Senegal survived a late fightback from Poland to seal a deserved 2-1 victory in Moscow. The game also provided one of the celebrations of the tournament as Senegal’s manager, Aliou Cisse, delivered three of the coolest fist-pumps you’ll ever see.
Cisse is the only black manager at the 2018 World Cup and at 42 he is also the youngest of the 32 head coaches in Russia.
“Football is a universal sport and the colour of your skin is of very little importance,” said Cisse .
“It’s good to have a black coach here but it shows that we have quality coaches among us. I represent a new generation that would like to have its place in African and world football.
“We are very good with our tactics and we have the right to be a part of the top international coaches.
“In European countries, in major clubs, you see lots of African players. Now we need African coaches for our continent to go ahead.”
Japan faced criticism for appointing boss Nishino after he lost his first two games in the build-up to the tournament, but the country is now fully behind him and his troops following a run of two wins on the spin: a warm-up victory over Paraguay and last week’s win against Colombia.
In the aftermath of the Colombia success, the 63-year-old refused to let the victory get to his head:
“Our players were aggressive from the start and that worked very well for us. This is just one win and three points, so we will save our celebration.”
Japan and Senegal have previously met on three occasions, with the latter winning two of those clashes, and The Lions of Teranga have been installed as the 11/8 favourites to grab another win on Sunday, while The Samurai Blue are priced at 5/2 to record back-to-back wins, whereas a draw can be found at 21/10.
Both teams to score looks the way to go at 21/20, and we expect Senegal to edge it with another 2-1 win (10/1, Bet365). We’re also tipping Sadio Mane to come alive on Sunday with the Liverpool star installed as the 5/1 favourite to open the scoring in Yekaterinburg.