2018 FIFA World Cup Preview: Group H
Is Colombia the favorite to finish atop of this group or is it Robert Lewandowski and the Poland national team? Can Japan and/or Senegal have an opportunity to upset one of the two favorites to reach the knockout stage?
Let’s take a look at Group H, the last group of the tournament, and see who has the best opportunity to advance.
After a few difficult spells for Chelsea and Manchester United, Radamel Falcao is again performing like one of the best strikers in the Ligue 1. He was instrumental in leading Monaco to finish atop of of Ligue 1 in the 2016-17 campaign and second, behind PSG, in the 2017-18 season. He was missing from the team due to a knee injury in 2014, and will look to captain Colombia further in the knockout stage this year.
The more interesting player to observe however, is James Rodriguez. He became a household name after the 2014 FIFA World Cup, scoring the goal of the tournament and knocking in both goals against Uruguay to advance Colombia to the quarter-finals, leading Real Madrid to sign him as the tournament closed. James did struggle finding minutes in Madrid, but has now proven to be an important player for Bayern Munich. His creativity, playmaking, and most importantly, versatility will be crucial to the success of Colombia. Other Colombia stars, Radamel Falcao and Juan Cuadrado, have more defined roles, while James will be tasked with playmaking for others, building chemistry between the midfielders and the attacking players, and lastly to score as well.
The defense of Colombia has players ranging from veterans like Cristian Zapata and young players like Davinson Sanchez. The defense has been mainly solid, and has demonstrated an ability to bounce back after mistakes, such as the friendly against France where they allowed two early goals.
Colombia has their best player since Carlos Valderama, performing at the best of his abilities, and we’ll await if James Rodriguez can capture the moment as he did in 2014.
The team selected from the fourth pot for Group H was Japan. The odds of advancing from the group stage are not likely as Colombia and Poland should be the two favored teams, but Japan has advanced to the knockout phase before, most recently in 2010, and with a tournament as unpredictable as the World Cup can be, Japan does have a shot.
The national team is filled with several veterans, including Keisuke Honda, Shiniji Kagawa, Makoto Hasebe, and Shiniji Okazaki. They are also coming off a recent victory over Paraguay were they made most of their opportunities and scored four goals. However, they did not display a dominance over Paraguay that would have been a confidence boost for the unbiased viewer to see this squad as a dark horse to advance from the group. The squad before their victory over Paraguay was coming off three straight defeats.
Japan will likely seek a tie in their first match against Colombia. A tie will give Japan hope that a victory over Senegal can keep them optimistic about their chances when they face Poland in their final match.
Making their first World Cup appearance since 2006, Poland will have one of its most talented squads since recent memory. Led by Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski, the Poland national team will have a great chance to advance to be one of the eight final teams of the tournament.
Poland will likely face a second match showdown against Colombia, where the winner of the match will advance to be the first placed team of the group. Key performers for Poland will include Jakub Blaszczykowski, Lukasz Piszczek, and Robert Lewandowski. The Polish squad features other prominent members, but these three will be crucial members to the leadership they will need. Piszczek is a long-time member of Borussia Dortmund, making over 200 appearance for the club, and will be needed along the wings in the advanced stage of the tournament to counter stronger team’s attacks.
All eyes will be on Robert Lewandowski. In his previous three seasons with Bayern Munich, he has close to averaged a goal per game and has been rumored with a move away from the German giants. He is a gifted scorer with much technical ability, and he will have to be one of the tournament’s leading goal scorers for the Poland team to have a chance in the knockout phase.
Senegal is another team making a return to the tournament after having failed to qualify in the previous editions. In their first ever FIFA World Cup played in 2002, they did make a run to the quarter-finals in 2002. The team has a few dynamic players that can shift a match and make advancing from the group stage a possibility.
The man to look at for Senegal is Sadio Mane. He recently became the first man from his country to score in a UEFA Champions League Final. At 26, Sadio is already one of the most experienced players for the national team. Senegal has several youth players in its attack, including M’Baye Niang. Sadio will have to have several moments of brilliance for Senegal as he had for Liverpool in this past season.
The Poland team who they will encounter in their first match features several experienced defenders in the defense. For a team that does not have many players with experience playing against this level of talent, or in this big a stage, Senegal will be a great team to root for as an underdog.
Colombia, Poland, Senegal, Japan