Volgograd (Russia) (AFP) – Japan coach Akira Nishino called on his players to play smart football against Poland in the heat of Volgograd on Thursday and be wary of the “world-class” Robert Lewandowksi if they want to reach the World Cup last 16.

Poland are already eliminated and Bayern Munich striker Lewandowski is yet to find the target in Russia.

But Nishino said his side could afford no complacency if they want to secure the point they need in expected furnace-like conditions to reach the knockout phase from Group H.

“There’s no such thing as a match that doesn’t matter,” Nishino told reporters at the Volgograd Arena on Wednesday.

“I am sure Poland will play for pride. Lewandowski is a world-class marksman and I am sure he will come out wanting to score a goal. So we have to be mentally prepared for that.”

Nishino also expressed surprise at encountering such fierce heat and humidity on arrival in Volgograd, where temperatures at Thursday’s 5:00 pm kickoff (1400 GMT) are expected to be nudging close to 40 Celsius.

“I was surprised how humid it was,” he said, adding that his players need to be clever in possession and conserve their energy in the sapping conditions.

“The quality of the movement needs to be well coordinated and we have to be as efficient and as effective as possible.

“The ball doesn’t get tired. We need to make our sprints when they will be effective. Unless we keep doing it, in second half we will tire but I think Japan players have good stamina.

“Players coming off the bench will be more important than previous matches.”

Japan top the group by virtue of having a better disciplinary record than Senegal, after beating Colombia 2-1 and drawing 2-2 with the African nation, meaning avoiding a defeat to the Poles will set up a last-16 encounter with either Belgium or England from Group G.

Even a loss could see them through, but they would have to rely on Senegal beating Colombia.

– ‘We failed’ –

Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima looks set to retain his place despite his blunder that led to Senegal’s opening goal and he agreed stopping Lewandowski would be key.

“I know that Poland is full of good players starting from Lewandowski and we need to mark him well,” said Kawashima.

“We need to employ counter measures. I hope there will be no opportunity for him to have a penalty kick.”

Poland came into this World Cup ranked eighth in the world and with high hopes, but they will make the short plane ride back to Warsaw after Thursday’s match having again not reached the knockout phase, something they haven’t achieved since 1986.

“It’s not an easy moment for us, especially from a mental point of view. We are all aware that we failed,” admitted midfielder Jakub Blaszczykowski. 

“We had our dreams but were not able to fulfil them. The game against Japan is very important for us as we must demonstrate that we are the team which never gives up.

“We gave Polish people a lot of joy in the last four years. We didn’t give the fans those dreams here at all. We want to change it tomorrow.”