World Cup Group H preview & predictions

World Cup Group H preview

As per usual, there are many great teams and players at this summer’s World Cup but Group H contains some of the very best.

Poland will be at the World Cup finals for the eighth time in their nation’s history and for the first time in 12 years.

The Poles have finished third on two different occasions but haven’t progressed past the Group Stage since 1986.

Will Poland impress again?

Poland were impressive at Euro 2016 and were unlucky to lose on penalties to the eventual Champions, Portugal in the quarter finals.

Senegal, Colombia and Japan join Poland in Group H which should make for an exciting six matches.

The Senegalese will be playing at their second ever World Cup finals, with their first appearance coming in 2002.

Senegal have previous for shocking the World Cup!

16 years ago, Senegal shocked the World by beating World Champions France in the inaugural match of the tournament before reaching the quarter finals.

Colombia were one of the most entertaining sides to watch four years ago in Brazil as James Rodriguez announced himself to the World with a series of stunning performances and goals.

The Colombians take their football very seriously and in 1994, defender Andres Escobar tragically lost his life after being shot by a mentally ill supporter .

Escobar has scored an own goal which knocked Colombia out of the tournament 6 days earlier.

Colombia reached the quarter finals four years ago in Brazil and they will be hoping to go even further this summer in Russia.

And finally, Japan.

The Japanese have qualified for their sixth consecutive World Cup after a tough qualification group containing Saudi Arabia and Australia.

Japan were beaten 4-1 by Colombia in the group stages in Brazil and they will be eager to get their revenge this summer.

Poland

Robert Lewandowski

Poland haven’t had much success at international tournaments in recent years but like England, thrive in the qualifiers.

Robert Lewandowski scored 16 goals in qualification, more than any other player across the world.

The Bayern Munich striker is one of the games best attacking players and will be marked closely by every opposition team.

The Poles qualified with ease, winning 8 out of their 10 matches and scoring 28 goals.

The goalkeeping duties were split between two former Arsenal goalkeepers in qualification; Wojciech Szczesny and Lukasz Fabianski who are both very reliable as Poand’s last line of defence.

Poland’s squad is filled with players playing across Europe’s top leagues and they will be favourites to top Group H.

Poland’s key men

Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), Wojciech Szczesny (Juventus) & Arkadiusz Milik (Napoli)

Lewandowski is Poland’s greatest ever goal scorer with 51 goals in just 91 appearances and he is an obvious contender for the World Cup’s golden boot.

The former Borussia Dortmund hitman struggled at Euro 2016, managing to score just 1 goal in 5 matches but after another great season at Bayern Munich (he has 23 goals in 27 matches thus far), he should be ready to take the World Cup by storm.

Wojciech Szczesny was foolishly sold by Arsene Wenger to Juventus in the summer for £10 million.

The 27 year old became the fastest ever goal keeper in Italian football history to reach 10 clean sheets for his new side and has filled the gap left by Gianluigi Buffon this season, very well.

Szczesny was sent off in Poland’s opening group match against Greece and fell out of favour in the national side.

However, his performances in Italy are surely too good to ignore.

Milik is widely expected to become one of football’s best players and already has 12 goals for his country.

At 23 years old, Milik has a chance to get his name known worldwide this summer and we think he will grasp the opportunity.

Senegal

Sadio Mane

Senegal are back at the World Cup finals after a 16 year absence and if they perform anywhere near as good as they did last time, we are in for a treat.

The Senegalese qualified comfortably from their group, winning 4 of their 6 matches and drawing the remaining two.

Senegal have a mixture of youth and experience in their side but their younger players look extremely promising, in particular, Monaco’s Keita Balde Diao.

Senegal’s match against South Africa during qualification will go down in football history as one of the most controversial of all time.

The referee awarded South Africa a penalty for a ‘handball’ that never happened.

South Africa won the match 2-1 but Senegal won the replay of the match, 2-0.

Joseph Lamprey, the referee of the first match, was banned for life from refereeing by FIFA.

Senegal’s key men

Sadio Mane (Liverpool), Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli) & Keita Balde Diao (Monaco)

Senegal have a very exciting team, filled with many Premier League players but the best of the bunch is Liverpool’s Sadio Mane.

Mane wasn’t so prolific in qualification, scoring just one goal for his country but has been on fire for Liverpool over the past two years and if he brings his club form with him to Russia, the world will be able to sit back and watch his brilliance.

Napoli’s Koulibaly was the victim of the infamous “handball” incident against South Africa but he is better known as one of football’s best defenders.

The 26 year old is a tough tackling, ball playing centre back and he will have a great battle against Lewandowski when the two sides meet on the 19th of June.

Monaco’s Keita Balde Diao is one of the best up and coming youngsters in world football.

The 22 year old is pacey and skilful and has all the assets required to be a top professional footballer in this day and age.

Colombia

James Rodriguez at Bayern Munich

As well as their brilliant attacking play, Colombia have a number of great young defenders in their side, most notably Tottenham’s 21 year old centre back, Davinson Sanchez and Barcelona’s January recruit, Yerry Mina.

Colombia qualified for Russia by a solitary point, ahead of Peru and Chile.

Both Brazil and Uruguay were held to draws by The Colombians which demonstrates the side’s ability to shut out the so-called “bigger” sides.

Arsenal’s David Ospina plays in goal for his country and is usually more than reliable.

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Colombia’s key men

James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich), Radamel Falcao (Monaco) & Carlos Sanchez (Fiorentina)

James Rodriguez was relatively unknown before the 2014 World Cup but finished the tournament as top scorer with 6 goals in Brazil.

Four years on, James is one of football’s biggest names, winning 2 Champions League titles with Real Madrid before moving to Bayern Munich on loan in the summer where he has blossomed once again.

Nobody can quite understand why Radamel Falco was unable to perform in the Premier League but the Colombian captain will be a vital figure for his country on and off the pitch.

Falcao is scoring for fun in France this season and if he continues his hot streak in Russia, Colombia could go very far in the tournament.

Former Aston Villa midfielder Carlos Sanchez has represented his country in over 80 matches and is one of the more senior members of the squad.

Sanchez controls the midfield area before feeding the ball through to players such as James and Falcao who score the goals and grab the plaudits.

Japan

Japan qualified for the World Cup finals with a 2-0 win over Australia in the penultimate qualifying group match.

They finished a single point above second placed Saudi Arabia and third placed Australia.

The Japanese conceded just 7 goals throughout qualification, keeping four clean sheets in their ten matches.

Metz goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima has proved to be a very reliable player for the Japanese national side and has amassed over 80 caps for his country so far.

Inter Milan’s Yūto Nagatomo plays alongside Southampton’s Maya Yoshida at the back whilst Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder Makoto Hasebe captains the side.

Japan’s key men

Shinji Okazaki (Leicester City), Takuma Asano (Stuttgart) & Genki Haraguchi (Fortuna Dusseldorf)

Okazaki is Japan’s biggest star, especially after winning the Premier League with Leicester in 2016.

He needs just 6 more goals to become Japan’s second greatest ever goal scorer, but 31 to beat Kunishige Kamamoto’s record of 80 goals.

Okazaki has bursts of energy and is a very difficult player to mark which suggests he will play a key part in the end result of Group H.

Takuma Asano is currently spending a season on loan at Stuttgart from Arsenal and the 23  year old is certainly making his case to break into the Gunners team when he returns due to his pace, precision and speciality of finding the bottom corner of the net.

Asano has scored 3 goals for Japan and will be hoping to add to his tally in Russia.

Lastly, there is Genki Haraguchi.

Haraguchi was Japan’s top scorer in qualification with 4 goals.

The 26 year old is an established Bundesliga forward, playing over 100 matches in Germany since 2014.

Japan’s attacking options aren’t exactly the best at the World Cup, but they are certainly strong enough to give themselves a chance of progressing through the group stage.

 Group H results

Colombia 3-1 Japan

Poland 2-0 Senegal

Japan 1-2 Senegal

Poland 1-2 Colombia

Japan 0-2 Poland

Senegal 1-2 Colombia

The verdict on Group H

Despite not having any of the pre-tournament favourites inside the group, we expect Group H to be the most entertaining.

Group H guarantees goals, skills and moments of brilliance.

We think that Colombia will narrowly beat Poland to top spot with the Poles qualifying in second place.

Sengal and Japan are unlucky to be drawn in a  group alongside these two great sides as in other groups, they surely would have qualified.

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