After six games of the third round of qualifying, Japan sit in the automatic qualification spots, albeit with just a one-point lead over Australia, while their visitors have far more work to do if they are to stand a chance of advancing.
After cruising through round two with an almost perfect record, Japan have again looked strong in the third round of Asian World Cup Qualifying, winning four of their six games so far in the campaign, despite suffering an opening 1-0 loss to Oman.
Hajime Moriyasu's team bounced back instantly when they took on China in the first group meeting between these two sides, as Yuya Osako netted the only goal of the game in Qatar, before they were again harmed by a 1-0 defeat, this time to Saudi Arabia.
Moriyasu's men have since built on that with back-to-back 1-0 wins over Vietnam and Oman, with Junya Ito netting the decisive goals in each of those.
As a result of their strong rebound, Japan sit a point ahead of Australia in third place, and, with two teams earning guaranteed qualification to the tournament later this year, they will be keen to add a fourth straight victory to strengthen their bid for a seventh consecutive World Cup appearance.
They take on a China side with a much slimmer chance of progressing after a tough start to the third round, with the visitors beginning by losing to Australia and Thursday's opponents.
While they bounced back with a dramatic 3-2 victory over Vietnam thanks to a Zhang Yuning goal and a Wu Lei brace, including a 95th-minute winner, the Dragon's Team have been unable to add another win, falling to a defeat to Saudi Arabia by the same scoreline in the aftermath.
After commendable 1-1 draws against Oman and Australia, with Wu Lei scoring in each, they have kept their hopes alive, but with Australia sitting six points ahead in the playoff place and Japan leading them by seven points, Li Xiaopeng's men will know they need to post a run of victories to still stand a chance.
With just four games left to play, Thursday must act as a turning point for the Dragon's Team under the new management of Li Xiaopeng as they look to reach a World Cup for the first time since 2002.
Japan have called up a strong team for this round of fixtures, and Moriyasu will likely deploy a similar starting XI to the sides that picked up three consecutive qualifying wins late last year.
Yuya Osako will lead the line, having hit 24 international goals, while Junya Ito should keep a spot on the wing after netting consecutive winning goals.
Liverpool talent Takumi Minamino will likely complete the front three, with the likes of Yuto Nagatomo and Hiroki Sakai expected to command the back line in the absence of captain Maya Yoshida and Arsenal defender Takehiro Tomiyasu due to injuries.
China's attack will be led by star man Wu Lei, who took his tally to 27 international goals with his equalisers against Australia and Oman in their last two qualifying games.
Japan possible starting lineup:
Gonda; Yamane, Sakai, Ueda, Nagatomo; Shibasaki, Endo, Tanaka; Ito, Osako, Minamino
China possible starting lineup:
Yan; Zhang, Zhu, Browning, Wang; Xu, Wu, Aloisio; Lei, Alan, Yuning
We say: Japan 2-1 China
Even without several crucial defenders, Japan boast the stronger of the two squads, and, with the added motivation of staying in the top two, we fancy them to get over the line with home advantage.
The Samurai Blue's front three are bound to cause problems for their visitors and Ito, Osako and Minamino should fire their nation to another qualifying win.