World Cup Preview 2018 – Group H
Last but not least, we come to the final group of the 2018 World Cup, Group H.
This has the potential to be the most evenly contested group of the tournament, featuring Poland, Senegal, Colombia and Japan.
Looking at each of these teams, not one of them is considered a genuine contender to go far in Russia but there is an opportunity for one or two of them to cause a surprise.
Poland will be making their first appearance at the World Cup in 12 years and could progress from this group.
In their previous two World Cup tournaments, 1990 and 2006, Poland have been eliminated at the group stage, something they will believe they can avoid in Russia.
The Poles were eliminated on penalties at the 2016 European Championships and could easily have gone further in the tournament. The Eagles looked good in qualifying, topping their group with 25 points from ten games.
Manager: Adam Nawalka has been at the helm of Polish football for five years and has successfully changed their style of play from a counter-attacking team to one which enjoys possession.
Key Player: If Poland are to reach the latter stages of the 2018 World Cup, striker Robert Lewandowski needs to be fit and scoring goals.
Senegal created a sensation when they defeated France in the group stages of the 2002 World Cup and went on to make the quarter-final.
However, this is the first time they have managed to qualify for a World Cup since and in qualification for this tournament, Senegal were drawn with Burkina Faso, Cape Verde and South Africa. Only the top team progressed to Russia and the Lions of Teranga won the group although there was plenty of controversy along with way, including a replayed match with South Africa.
Senegal are many peoples pick as the top African team for this tournament.
Manager: Aliou Cisse was the captain of the Senegal team at the 2002 World Cup and the midfielder will be hoping to use his experience to guide the team into the Round of 16.
Key Player: Sadio Mane has pace to burn and will be an important player for Senegal on the counter-attack. His finishing has improved at Liverpool and he will be a big threat.
Colombia were one of the most entertaining teams at the 2014 World Cup and James Rodriguez scored some sensational goals on their way to the quarter-final.
Colombia were eliminated by Brazil four years ago and would be more than happy to reach the quarter-final again in 2018. The Tricolors were inconsistent in qualifying for Russia but thanks to the teams around them also struggling, Colombia only needed to win 7 of their 18 games to qualify for the World Cup.
Colombia kept many of their qualifying games tight and they lost only two games by more than a single goal margin.
Manager: Argentine, Jose Pekerman, led his native country to the quarter-final of the 2006 World Cup and a repeat with Colombia would be more than welcome.
Key Player: James Rodriguez struggled following his big money move to Real Madrid after the 2014 World Cup but has been rediscovering his form at Bayern Munich this season, just in time for the World Cup.
The Japanese qualified for their first World Cup in 1998 and this was the start of something special for the Samurai Blue, who have played in every World Cup since.
Japan have twice reached the Round of 16, once in 2002 in-front of their own fans and at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Their performances in a tough qualifying group suggest Japan could cause their opponents in this group problems. They enjoyed a run of 8 games without defeat in qualifying, which meant they sealed their place in Russia before the final round of group matches.
Many of Japan’s top players are in the European leagues and they have plenty of quality in their ranks.
Manager: Vahid Halilhodzic has surprised many fans with his team selections in qualifying, with Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki having fringe roles but so far it has proved successful.
Key Player: Despite not featuring as often as he would have liked, Shinji Kagawa was Japan’s top scorer in qualifying and his experience and skill will be required in this tournament.