With the 2018 World Cup in Russia kicking off in less than a month, SoccerNews.com is commencing its own series of group predictions where you will be able to find previews of all the teams taking part in this summer’s showpiece tournament, latest team news and best betting odds and suggestions.
We have analysed every single group of the competition, and we will end our series with Group H. Several experts and pundits view this group as one of the most balanced ones in the tournament. It is one where every single team has a decent chance of reaching the Round of 16.
One would think that Colombia have a slight edge based on talent alone, but we shouldn’t take the other teams for granted. Japan, Poland and Senegal all have interesting pieces, and all signs indicate this Group will go down to the wire to determine which sides will advance, and which ones will have to return home after the initial stage on Russian soil.
Kto znalazł się w kadrze reprezentacji Polski na mistrzostwa świata w Rosji? 🤔
Przed Wami szeroki skład na mundial! ⤵ pic.twitter.com/xpYSARwe3J
— Łączy nas piłka (@LaczyNasPilka) 11 de mayo de 2018
Without question, Poland were the biggest surprise when the top-seeded teams were announced. They got one of the top eight spots thanks to their FIFA ranking, but that comes as an extra pressure since they “have” to get into the next round as a minimal requirement. But the good news for them is that they didn’t get squared in a very difficult group. If anything, this is a very balanced zone with four evenly-matched teams.
Poland did a good job in the UEFA Qualifying stage, though, as they topped Group E while losing just one of his 10 matches. The Polish side climbed at the top of the standings with 25 points (W8, D1, L1) and finished above Denmark (20 pts) and the remaining nations: Montenegro, Romania, Armenia, and Kazakhstan. As if that wasn’t enough, they also had the top scorer in the entire UEFA Qualifying campaign since Robert Lewandowski finished with 16 goals.
Poland’s previsional World Cup squad features 35 players, so 12 will be leaving the team’s facilities before departing to Russia. And while several spots will be up in the air, most the eyes in the world will be on Lewandowski, who will be one of the top strikers in the competitions. Other players worth watching on the Polish side are goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny (Juventus), centre-back Kamil Glik (AS Monaco), striker Arkadiusz Milik (Napoli), and central midfielder Piotr Zielinski (Napoli). There is definitively a decent amount of talent on the side.
Voici la liste des 23 joueurs retenus pour la coupe du monde 2018:
— Senegal Football🇸🇳 (@SenegalFootball) 17 de mayo de 2018
Senegal have returned to the World Cup following their one and only trip in 2002, but that was a participation that everyone will remember as they reached the quarterfinals. The names of El Hadji Diouf and Papa Bouba Diop are considered legends in the country, but this new crop of players have a lot of talent and are keen to show they can perform as good as that team from 16 years ago, this time on Russian soil.
If we judge Senegal by their performance during the African World Cup Qualifiers, then there are enough reasons to make fans believe of an adequate performance. The Lions of Teranga played in Group D against Burkina Faso, Cape Verde and South Africa, but topped the zone with relative ease thanks to four wins, two draws and a +7 goal differential (10 scored, three conceded). Their top scorer during the qualifying run were Mame Biram Diouf, Cheikh N’Doye and Diafra Sakho, all with two goals.
Senegal can make things complicated for any team in the group, and they have decent chances of qualifying. However, all of their chances will rely on Sadio Mane. The talented winger is coming off scoring a goal in the UEFA Champions League final against Real Madrid, and he will undoubtedly be the team’s massive reference upfront.
Mane won’t be alone on the attacking line, though. Senegal also have M’Baye Niang (Torino), Keita Balde (AS Monaco), Moussa Sow (Fenerbahce) and Diouf (Stoke City) on the attack. The team’s chances of getting past the Group Stage will rest on their power upfront.
— Liam Yasser (@YasserLiam) 17 de mayo de 2018
Many believe the South American (CONMEBOL) World Cup Qualifiers are the toughest in the world; not only because of the quality of the opposition, but also because of the variety of conditions teams must face when playing away from home. But Colombia overcame all of those challenges and secured a spot in the upcoming tournament. Of course, any other outcome would have been quite a disappointment. Let’s remember Los Cafeteros reached the quarterfinals four years ago on Brazilian soil.
But Jose Pekerman’s men lived up to the expectations. Los Cafeteros finished in fourth place of the CONMEBOL standings thanks to seven wins, six draws, and five defeats (27 points, +2 goal differential). Colombia ended behind Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, but finished above Peru and Chile. The team’s top scorer was James Rodriguez, who netted six goals, same as world-class players such as Neymar and Alexis Sanchez.
Sebastian Perez and Stefan Medina have already been separated from the squad by Pekerman. And others will soon follow those two. The Argentinian tactician called up 35 players for the preliminary squad, so 10 more must leave before the deadline on early June.
Regardless of who stays and who leaves, one thing is quite clear. Colombia will once again back up their strength in their usual suspects. James (Bayern Munich), Radamel Falcao (AS Monaco), Juan Guillermo Cuadrado (Juventus), Davinson Sanchez (Tottenham) and David Opsina (Arsenal) will form a very interesting backbone that will try to push Colombia further from the quarterfinals they reached four years ago.
— Sport Definition (@SportDefinition) 18 de mayo de 2018
Based on experience and overall strength of the roster, it seems Japan are the weakest link in the group. And that should be enough reason to understand how tight things are in this zone. The Blue Samurais could easily fight for second place in any given Group, but that is not the case here. It seems they are just a step below the likes of Colombia and Poland, and pretty evenly matched with Senegal.
Japan’s qualifying run was fairly quiet, though. They have always been one of the top teams in the Asian region, and they certainly showed it during the qualifying stages. The Samurais breezed through the initial rounds, and played in Group B alongside Saudi Arabia, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Iraq and Thailand. They won their group with 20 points (W6, D2, L2) and finished above the Saudi and The Socceroos, the other two big threats for direct qualification. Their top scorer was Keisuke Honda, with seven goals.
There were not many surprises on the Japan preliminary squad. However, the omission of Shoya Nakajima (10 goals and 12 assists in 29 starts for Portimonense in the Portugal Liga NOS) is puzzling, to say the least. But the rest of the squad should be the same that carried the bulk of the load during the World Cup Qualifying round.
The full squad is not announced yet, as manager Akira Nishino called up a 27-man provisional squad. Names like Maya Yoshida, Makoto Hasebe, Keisuke Honda, Shinji Okazaki and Shinji Kagawa should lead the way. But Japan have enough weapons to make an impact.
There are several interesting betting odds worth monitoring in this group. Things are so close between these four teams, that basically any side could find a spot in the Round of 16 if things go their way. But if we back ourselves up on the betting odds, we can see Colombia are 11/8 to win the Group. Those looking for a surprising – yet realistic – outcome, Senegal are 5/1 to win the Group, and an even more realistic 7/4 to reach the Round of 16.
Looking at players’ odds, Robert Lewandowski appears with a decent 33/1 odds to be the tournament’s top scorer. He largely depends on how far Poland can go in the tournament. But if Oleg Salenko won the Golden Boot back in 1994 with Russia getting eliminated in the Group Stage, who says Lewandowski can’t do the same?
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