By sportswriter Michael Place
Needing only a draw for his team to advance to the round of 16, Senegal coach Aliou Cisse is likely to opt for a more defensive formation than the 4-3-3 he used in the 2-2 draw with Japan on Sunday. Cisse has called for more from Sadio Mane, despite the Liverpool forward’s goal against the Blue Samurai. “He can do better, but [against Japan] he was better than against Poland and he needs to do better against Colombia,” Cisse told reporters.
Colombia, who must win to progress without depending on others, will have Carlos Sanchez available after the midfielder’s one-game suspension.
2. Can Robert Lewandowski break his duck?
Poland have already been eliminated but will be looking to salvage something in their last group match against Japan. Motivation will be particularly strong for Robert Lewandowski, who is still searching for his first World Cup goal. At 29, there is no guarantee that the Bayern Munich striker will get another chance in football’s premier tournament.
The Poles will be up against a Japan side that have impressed so far with their pace and attacking mindset. A draw will be enough for Akira Nishino’s men to advance but they will be looking for a win to finish top of the group.
3. Can Kane continue his scoring run?
With England’s place in the next round already assured, manager Gareth Southgate could make changes to the team that beat Panama 6-1 in Nizhny Novgorod. However one man almost certain to start is striker Harry Kane, as he aims to become the first Englishman since Gary Lineker in 1986 to win the World Cup Golden Boot. Kane already has five goals to his name, one more than Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku.
The Tottenham forward could be joined in the starting lineup by club teammate Dele Alli, who missed the Panama clash with a thigh strain. Harry Maguire and Kieran Trippier face fitness tests after picking up minor injuries against the Central American side.
4. Club rivalries
Besides Kane’s pursuit of the Golden Boot, another interesting subplot to the match in Kaliningrad will be the personal duels between several club teammates. Twelves members of Belgium’s squad play in the Premier League and teammates who could be direct opponents on Thursday include: Manchester City’s John Stones and Kevin de Bruyne; Tottenham’s Eric Dier and Jan Vertonghen; Gary Cahill and Eden Hazard; and Phil Jones and Romelu Lukaku.
However while Kane is expected to start, Belgium coach Roberto Martinez has hinted he may leave several key players on the bench, including De Bruyne and Vertonghen, who are on yellow cards. Lukaku could also be rested after picking up a slight ankle injury in the team’s 5-2 win over Tunisia.
5. Will Panama or Tunisia bow out on a high?
Both teams will be going home after their duel in Saransk on Thursday. But pride will be on the line as they aim to notch their first points of the tournament. Tunisia are seeking their second ever World Cup win; their last coming in the 1978 finals when they overcame Mexico 3-1. Panama have never tasted victory at the World Cup.
Tunisia attacker Wahbi Khazri has struggled to make an impact in Russia so far but could have more opportunities against a Panama defence that let in six goals against England on Sunday. Panama will again look to veteran striker Blas Perez to provide their chief scoring outlet.