As Russia prepares to open the festivities for this year’s World Cup, we’re going to preview each group and discuss the exciting match ups to come. In our final preview, we look at Group H.
Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan
After missing qualification for the last three tournaments, Poland makes their return to the grand stage. A promising showing at Euro 2016, in which they reached the quarter-finals has anticipation high. Combine that with winning their qualifying group, and the expectations for Poland to perform in this year’s tournament are tangible. Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski staked his claim as the star of this team, scoring a leading 16 goals in the qualifying campaign. His offense will be a requirement, as Poland also conceded 14 goals in qualifying, highlighting the concerns on the defensive side of the ball. A 4-0 loss to Denmark was followed up with strong 3-0 and 6-0 victories to follow and regain their momentum. Ranked 8th in FIFA’s world rankings, Poland needs a strong start and consistent play in order to progress in the tournament.
Senegal makes their second appearance in a World Cup final. After becoming the first African nation to make the quarter-finals back in 2002, Senegal hopes to repeat that performance and become the first African nation to enter the semis. After captaining his country to those quarter-finals 16 years ago, coach Aliou Cisse looks to turn another page, recruiting a strong squad from clubs throughout Europe such as Liverpool’s Sadio Mane. The Senegalese qualification was not without controversy as the team submitted a protest following their 2-1 loss in South Africa after Ghanaian ref Joseph Lamptey awarded South Africa a questionable penalty. After their investigation, FIFA sided with Senegal, and as a result, Lamptey received a lifetime ban. This would require the game to be replayed, and Senegal emerged victorious. With a convincing win over South Korea in their final friendly, Senegal look ready to make the most of their berth in the finals and surprise the world like they did in their last appearance.
In what should be a much more capable squad, many questions arose as the Colombians struggled through qualification. Colombia finished fourth in CONMEBOL qualification, albeit behind the strong teams of Neymar’s Brazil, Suarez’s Uruguay and Messi’s Argentina. Following a quarter-finals appearance in 2014, expectations are high that Colombia can repeat this performance, a and move forward in the tournament. Sporting a variety of international club players, Colombia will draw on the strengths and experience of players such as Arsenal’s David Ospina, and Monaco’s Radamel Falcao to be the difference. A strong showing in France in their pre-tournament friendly gave some confidence as the final touches were being put into place. Coach Jose Pekerman’s tactics will have to be perfect, for Colombia to regain their form and progress out of the group stages.
Japan marked their route to Russia decisively, ending qualification as the eventual winners of their group. After suffering defeat in their first match against the United Arab Emirates, Japan bounced back to go undefeated in the next seven matches and suffering a 1-0 in their final match. With this being their sixth consecutive trip to the finals, the Japanese are determined to surpass their quarter-finals appearance most recently in 2010. This squad boasts an abundance of talent, as Leicester City’s Shinji Okazaki will be up front pushing the pace. while Eiji Kawashima returns to protect the Japanese goal. The perpetual defensive questions return, as Japan has struggled with errors in their own end. The international friendlies leading up to the tournament provided some difficulty as Japan lost against Ukraine. Ghana and Switzerland consecutively. In what will be one of the tightest groups to emerge from, Japan is a formidable opponent and could make it happen.