With the FIFA World Cup set to kick off soon in Russia, we bring you the lowdown of Group H, which comprises of Colombia, Japan, Senegal and Poland.
Group H is probably the least hyped group of the 2018 World Cup, but could come across as the most competitive one as well heading into the event. Colombia though, will be the favourites to top the group but will have to be wary of the threat posed by the other nations as well.
Japan have not made much of an impact on the international stage since their appearance in the 2002 World Cup while Poland and Senegal have both had similarly disappointing international displays. Now though, could be the time to arrive on the big stage. We provide you with an overview of the group.
Group H – Colombia, Japan, Senegal, Poland
June 19: Colombia vs Japan; Poland vs Senegal
June 24: Japan vs Senegal; Poland vs Colombia
June 28: Senegal vs Colombia; Japan vs Poland
Colombia, like Argentina, struggled in the CONMEBOL qualifiers, only to qualify by the skin of the teeth after what was a very average campaign by the 2014 surprise package. With an array of attacking talent at Jose Pekerman’s disposal, the nation’s inability to score goals with ease was the focal point of their CONMEBOL struggles.
Another thing that emerged from their qualifying campaign was their end-stage form, with Colombia managing no wins in their last 4 qualifying matches. The Tinkerman though, will be glad to have a full-strength squad at his disposal heading into the World Cup, where his tactical prowess could really help the nation.
Despite their struggles to qualify, the quality in the squad is bereft of any doubts. There is almost an optimum mix of domestic players and stars plying their trade in the foreign leagues. Bear in mind though, the ones playing in Latin America are stars in their own right and could turn out to be lethal weapons for Pekerman, due to them being underrated.
Defence though, will be their strongest area, with the likes of Johan Mojica, Davinson Sanchez and Santiago Arias coming in with a good domestic season behind them. With a good depth in midfield and attack, Pekerman and his men are likely to do some damage in Russia.
Key Player(s): Radamel Falcao, Davinson Sanchez, David Ospina
Davinson Sanchez comes into the World Cup off the back of a brilliant campaign with Tottenham and would be key in keeping the defence organised and focused. With a new boss at Arsenal, David Ospina will be hoping to have a good World Cup, which might just see him being made the first-choice keeper at the club.
But, for Falcao, this will be more important than every other player, with this World Cup likely to be his final hurrah at the international level, at least as far as big international tournaments are concerned. The striker may not be as explosive as before, but is still a proven goalscorer and could prove vital to Colombia’s chances in Russia.
Japan have been one of the most consistent Asian teams in recent times at the World Cup. The nation has qualified for every World Cup edition since 1998, but gone past the Group Stage only twice, with Round of 16 the farthest they have managed to reach.
Their qualifying campaign under Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic was a success, but he has since been replaced by Akira Nishino, who is yet to actually take charge of a competitive match as the National Team Coach of Japan, which will add some uncertainty to their hopes at the World Cup.
The selection has been adequate, with Takuma Asano the only surprise exclusion from the 23-man squad. With a majority of players plying their trade in Europe, their experience in the European leagues will come in handy when performing on the big stage.
Nishino has an ageing squad at his disposal, which could prove to be a good thing as well in Russia, with the World Cup often rewarding experience.
Key Player(s): Makoto Hasebe, Shinji Okazaki, Shinji Kagawa
Likely to be Hasebe’s final hurrah at the World Cup, the captain will be hoping to lead from the front, with set-pieces his specialty. There are other handy customers with the dead ball within the team, but Hasebe’s prowess is likely to shine through in the Group Stage and could be crucial to Japan’s fortunes.
Shinji Okazaki arrives in Russia on the back of a brilliant campaign with Leicester City and while Shinji Kagawa has not been as impressive as his Premier League counterpart, both the players will be equally important in build-ups and finishing the chances created.
Only their second appearance at the World Cup, Senegal would feel they have a chance at progressing past the Group Stage, thanks to an even group draw. That Senegal went unbeaten through their qualifying campaign will boost their hopes while also lending credit to the work done by Aliou Cisse since taking over in 2015.
The talent is available in abundance within the squad, so much so that Cisse had to take some tough calls, excluding the likes of Pape Souare, Oumar Niasse and Khouma Babacar from the 23-man squad.
With young talents coming through, Cisse has opted to take the likes of Ismaila Sarr and Moussa Wague to the World Cup, with both having equal chances of playing a key role within the squad.
Senegal had managed to reach the Quarter-Finals in their only appearance in a World Cup in 2002 and are likely to be strong contenders to repeat their feat, with a tightly-knit group at Cisse’s disposal.
Key Player(s): Sadio Mane, Kalidou Koulibaly
Sadio Mane will headline the squad and the Senegalese would be keen to show he can still be the difference-maker after being eclipsed within the Liverpool squad by the arrival of Mohamed Salah, in terms of influence. Mane though, has an enviable supporting cast and should be ably assisted by the attackers around him.
If Mane is the star attraction up front, Kalidou Koulibaly will be entrusted with the responsibility of keeping things tight at the back. With the player already being linked with moves away from Napoli, expect scouts in attendance to map his performance and a good World Cup campaign could earn him a big-money move after the event.
The highest ranked nation within the group, Poland enjoyed a comfortable qualifying campaign, with Denmark the only true competitors within their group. The Poles lost just one game en route to the World Cup and have been granted a generous group draw, which could also turn out to be tricky, considering the fact that all the nations are very close to each other in terms of rankings.
The 1970-1990 era was very ominous for Poland, with the nation enjoying two third-place finishes at the World Cup while never failing to clear the Group Stage. But, since 1990, the European nation has managed to qualify for the World Cup just twice, bowing out in the Group Stage in both the iterations.
After an admirable Euro 2016 campaign, where they already recorded their best finish in the nation’s history at the competition, making it to the Quarter-Finals, there are high hopes from Poland to make a splash at the World Cup in Russia.
Led admirably by Head Coach Adam Nawalka, Poland go into the World Cup in full-strength. Nawalka will be happy with the squad at his disposal, with Artur Boruc’s exclusion the only one that raised a few eyebrows, especially with Bartosz Bialkowski included in the squad.
Key Player(s): Wojciech Szczesny, Piotr Zielinski, Robert Lewandowski
If Poland are to have a successful campaign, it will be down to the trio of aforementioned players to play well. Szczesny could see himself becoming the first-choice at Juventus with a brilliant World Cup campaign while Piotr Zielinski could establish himself as a big name in the European scene.
Above all, Robert Lewandowski could also be taking the World Cup as not just a passionate event, but an audition as well. The striker is tipped to leave Bayern Munich and a good World Cup will definitely pique interest of the top clubs.
Nations to Progress: Colombia and Senegal
The big stage is where Jose Pekerman’s tactical prowess is likely to come to the fore again. The manager will be one of the reasons Colombia dominate the group and are tipped to top the standings. The fight for second place though, could be an intriguing one.
Japan, Senegal and Poland all possess equal chances of making it past the Group Stage but the African nation is currently on an upward trajectory and could surprise us all by beating favourites Poland en route to a spot in the Round of 16.