This might be my favorite group in the entire tournament so naturally I have to wait a week to see them all kickoff the last group of the World Cup.
There’s so much to like and dislike about each of these teams. Colombia’s recent international form leaves a lot to be desired but they’re possibly the best team in the group. Poland hasn’t had a lot of recent success at the World Cup but have one of the best strikers in the world. Senegal is everyone’s favorite upstart team from 2002 and Japan boosts an attacking trio rivaling anyone in the tournament. So something’s got to give here.
H - Based on our World Cup predictor, Opta give Colombia (55.0%) the best chance of progressing from Group H at the 2018 @FIFAWorldCup. Tight.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 12, 2018
For more info on the how the Opta Predictor is calculated, click here: https://t.co/O5yVz0Y0Zl#COL #JPN #POL #SEN pic.twitter.com/Le67seZH2z
Why do we call this a “primer” and not a preview? Because this is more a lot of key information in one place that I think is a handy reference for viewers rather than a ton of specific analysis on what each team can or could do at the World Cup.
Colombia vs. Japan, Saransk (8 am ET, FS1, Telemundo)
Poland vs. Senegal, Spartak Stadium, Moscow (11 am ET, Fox, Telemundo)
Japan vs. Senegal, Ekaterinburg (11 am ET, Fox, Telemundo)
Poland vs. Colombia, Kazan (2 pm ET, Fox, Telemundo)
Japan vs. Poland, Volgograd (10 am ET, *FS1, Universo)
Senegal vs. Colombia, Samara (10 am ET, *Fox, Telemundo)
Head Coach: Jose Pekerman (ARG)
Rankings: FIFA 16 / ELO 9
Nickname: Los Cafeteros
Qualification: CONEMBOL (S America) Round Robin, 4th Place
Appearance: 6th / Best Finish: Quarterfinals (2014)
Player You Should Know: FW Radamel Falcao, AS Monaco (FRA), 79 caps / 29 goals - Falcao missed Colombia’s 2014 tournament run with a ligament injury and will be making his World Cup debut, an odd thing to say for Colombia’s all-time leading scorer.
Player You Should Watch: MF James Rodriguez, Bayern Munich/GER (on loan from Real Madrid/ESP), 63 caps / 21 goals - The breakout player of the 2014 tournament has seen his club career blossom at Madrid and Bayern, maybe a repeat performance of his 2014 World Cup is unlikely but that’s only because he set the bar so damn high four years ago. Anything close to what he did in Brazil will be incredible and Colombia will benefit greatly from it.
It would not be a shock to say that Colombia is actually the favorite of this group, however their recent form leaves a lot to be desired. The friendly win against France helps, but this squad limped to the finish of qualifying, taking just three points, all draws, in their last four CONEMBOL round robin matches. Still, this is a very solid team with a healthy Falcao that could be better than the team that made the quarters last tournament.
Head Coach: Akira Nishino (JPN)
Rankings: FIFA 61 / ELO 44
Nickname: The Blue Samurai
Qualification: AFC (Asia) Third Round Group B Winners
Appearance: 6th / Best Finish: Round of 16 (2002, 2010)
Roster Breakdown: 8 Domestic, 7 Germany, 2 England, 2 France, 2 Spain, 1 Mexico, 1 Turkey
Players You Should Know/Watch: FW Shinji Okazaki, MF Keisuke Honda, MF Shinji Kagawa; combined 300 caps / 116 goals - Why is this team a threat? Mostly because of these three right here which can be as good as any trio in the world. Will they have to do a lot more heavy lifting than most other trios, absolutely, but these three can carry their team out of the group.
Japan can absolutely turn this group on it’s head right from the start of their first match with Colombia by getting any kind of result. I have questions about the Samurai’s defense which Colombia will test early and we’ll see how Japan handle’s their speed because that could also be an indicator of how well they might manage Senegal. One of the hardest teams for me to get a idea of, I legit could see them winning this group or flaming out quickly but I think they’re far from the minnows their ranking indicates.
Head Coach: Adam Nawalka (POL)
Rankings: FIFA 8 / ELO 19
Nickname: White Eagles / Winged Hussars
Qualification: UEFA (Europe) Group E Winners
Appearance: 8th / Best Finish: Third Place (1974, 1982)
Recent Results: June 8, vs Chile, D 2-2; June 12, vs Lithuania, W 4-0
Player You Should Know: FW Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich (GER), 95 caps / 55 goals - Poland’s all-time leading scorer makes his debut at the World Cup and that is bad news for just about everyone. One of if not the best target strikers in the competition.
Player You Should Watch: MF Jakub Blaszczykowski, Wolfsburg (GER), 99 caps / 20 goals - Longtime winger over at Dortmund, struggled last season with a back injury and didn’t play that much and his best club season was all the way back in 2012-13. If Poland is indeed more than just Lewandowski up top, good tournaments from Blaszczykowski and others will be needed.
I do not rate Poland all that high, maybe I’m still bitter about that 2002 Group Stage game against the USA. Poland surely have a lot of talent aside from Lewandowski, including a stacked 1-2 combo at goalkeeper in Wojciech Szczesny and Lukasz Fabianski, but this is a squad that is only recently started to have some success in qualification for the Euro tournaments and haven’t been to a World Cup since 2006. Lewandowski alone could get them through the group but they might need more than that, especially from a defense that allowed 14 goals in qualifying, fourth most in their group.
Head Coach: Aliou Cisse (SEN)
Rankings: FIFA 27 / ELO 27
Nickname: Lions of Teranga
Qualification: CAF (Africa) Third Round Group D Winners
Appearance: 2nd / Best Finish: Quarterfinals (2002)
Roster Breakdown: 0 Domestic, 7 France, 7 England, 3 Italy, 2 Belgium, 2 Turkey, 1 Germany, 1 Guinea
Player You Should Know: M/D Cheikhou Kouyate, West Ham Utd (ENG), 44 caps / 2 goals - If I’m reading the stats right, the Senegal captain is a bit of a destroyer type at CDM which will certainly be an asset in this group if he doesn’t rack up the yellow cards.
Player You Should Watch: FW Sadio Mane, Liverpool (ENG), 52 caps / 14 goals - Scored ten goals in ecah of the Premier League and Champions League competitions this season and a career high 4 international goals in the 2017 calendar year.
Another of my favorite teams from that fabled 2002 tournament, Senegal’s debut tournament run to the quarterfinals is the stuff of legends. And I refuse to doubt that they can’t do something like that again in what I think is the most wide open group of the entire tournament. Speed and offense often carries teams in the group stages and I think Senegal will cause a lot of problems in this group and maybe even beyond that. Getting a result against Poland in the first match should set them up for getting out of the group.
There is no wrong answer for this predicting this group. I have questions about both favorites and really like certain things about both underdogs. Colombia is probably the best team in the group and has the most experience from last tournament to fall back on so I think they make it out but maybe they don’t necessarily win the group. Poland had a solid qualifying campaign despite a 4-0 loss to Denmark and certainly have the ability to get into the knockout rounds and cause problems for just about anyone. I could see Poland literally winning the group or coming in last, that’s how far the spectrum is here if there’s no Plan B behind get Lewandowski the ball in the box.
My nostalgia for Senegal runs very deep and I want to see them play well and the same goes for Japan. The difference between these two teams is I think Senegal’s speed could cause more consistent problems for the group than Japan’s attack. Colombia and Japan met in the group stage at the last World Cup, a 4-1 in for Los Cafeteros as they claimed all nine points in the group. I think Senegal’s style might be closest to Colombia’s and that might make the difference against the other two sides who might struggle at the back against the speed and constant pressure.
If there’s a group that might have to have either 1st/2nd or 2nd/3rd decided on a tiebreak, it’s this one. Two teams like Colombia and Poland topping the group at 7 points or a couple of teams with 1-1-1 records tying at 4 points is highly possible. If the early drama of this tournament is any indication, Group H could top them all in that category.
1 - Colombia (7 pts); 2 - Senegal (5 pts); 3 - Poland (2 pts); 4 - Japan (1 pt)