Emabis takes a look at Group H which is more even than the other groups as it features no World Cup heavyweight.
Group H features Poland, Colombia, Senegal and Japan.
After reaching the semi-finals at Germany 1974 and Spain 1982, this is only Poland’s third World Cup finals since 1986. Poland qualified five points clear of Denmark in Group E with eight wins, one draw and one defeat (a whopping 4-0 loss away to Denmark).
Unfortunate to lose their 2016 Euro quarter-final on penalties to eventual winners Portugal, Poland will been keen to progress from a Group which features none of the traditional powerhouses. And players like Kamil Glik, Lucasz Piszcek, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Napoli’s Piortr Zielinski give Poland strong hope of reaching the Last 16 at a minimum. But Poland’s World Cup prospects rest almost entirely on the shoulders of Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski who scored sixteen goals in ten qualifiers (thirteen more than his closest teammate). But with only one goal in each of Poland's last two European championships, Lewandowski will need to improve below-par tournament performances.
Colombia reached the quarter-finals of Brazil 2014 to secure their best finish in five World Cup appearances. Finishing fourth in South American qualifying, Colombia failed to secure a win against Brazil, Uruguay or Argentina and scored only twenty-one goals in eighteen qualifiers. A surprise given their attackers include James Rodriquez, Falcao and Juan Cuadrado.
In their 2014 World Cup run, James Rodriguez scored six goals to land the Golden Boot and earn himself a high-profile move to Real Madrid. Since joining Bayern Munich on loan to secure first team football, James’ form in qualifying saw him net six goals from thirteen appearances – more than Bacca and Falcao combined. And with Falcao’s injury profile expected to limit his minutes in Russia, James’ will need a return to his Brazil form for Colombia to reach the quarter finals again.
Senegal reached the quarter-finals of their only World Cup in Korea / Japan 2002. A year in which they also reached the final of the African Cup of Nations. Senegal qualified for Russia initially beating Madagascar 5-2 on aggregate before topping a final round ahead of Burkina Faso, Cape Verde and South Africa. But their group record of four wins and two draws was mired in some controversy as one of those wins came in a replayed match away to South Africa when an initial away defeat was annulled due to match fixing by the FIFA referee.
Despite boasting Liverpool’s Sadio Mane, Senegal only scored ten goals in six group qualifiers. But scope for improvement exists in the form of Stoke’s Mame Biram Diouf and Rennes’ Diafra Sakho who equaled Mane’s tally of two qualifying goals from two games apiece (as opposed to Mane’s seven). And Senegal’s defence kept four clean sheets in six qualifying games.
This is Japan’s sixth consecutive World Cup finals. In their previous five, they reached the Last 16 twice and exited at the group stages of the other three when failing to win a game. The ‘Samurai Blue’ qualified for the World Cup after a two-round qualification which saw them top Group E ahead of Syria, Singapore, Afganistan and Cambodia before finishing top of Group B ahead of Saudi Arabia, Australia, UAE, Iraq and Thailand.
Coached by the experienced and eccentric Vahid Halilhodzic, who took Algeria to the Last 16 four years ago, Japan’s squad hosts a decent mix of talent and experience from the top divisions of England, France and Germany. And with players like Dortmund’s Shinji Kagawa and Leicester’s Shinji Okazaki, Japan could surprise.
Group H is the most even of all the Groups.
Of the four teams, I think a Lewandowski-led Poland have the strongest prospects of qualification. Which leaves Colombia, Senegal and Japan to battle it out for the other qualification place.
Despite James Rodriquez, Colombia scored only twenty-one goals in eighteen qualifiers. I think they may struggle in Russia. I also feel Senegal are over-rated due to Sadio Mane’s profile and club form for Liverpool. Whilst some players like Messi, Ronaldo, Lewandowski and Mo Salah can carry their national sides further than they deserve to go, Mane doesn’t possess the same influence and goal scoring prowess of those key players. As his qualification record of two goals from seven shows.
Japan have no star player like James Rodriquez or Sadio Mane. But they have a wider array of players plying their trade in the top tiers of European football. They also have a coach with experience in bringing an unfancied side through a group, and benefit from a fixture list which sees them meet Poland last. I think Japan could edge second place in a tight group.
Predicted Group Standings
Recommended Group Bet
I'm pleasantly surprised to see Colombia as favourites for Group G and am happy to take them on at the prices.
Recommended Group Match Bet
I think an energetic Japanese performance could surprise Colombia in the Group's opening game.