World in Sport arrives to the final group of the World Cup, as we preview group H at the Championships.
With all eight groups now exposed, we breakdown group H to complete our coverage of the event.
Of all eight groups featuring at the 2018 World Cup, group H is certainly the most wide open. Colombia and Poland appear as the group favorites, although Senegal and Japan aren’t far off pace.
Let’s reveal the four teams that will be competing in group H, as well as the schedule.
**All times listed in local Russia time, with the UTC and Eastern Time Zones included**
Poland – Japan – Colombia – Senegal
Odds to Win Group H (Bwin.com):
Match-by-match schedule for group H:
19 June 2018 (Match 1)
15:00 MSK (UTC+3) 8 A.M ET
Colombia Vs Japan @ Mordovia Arena, Saransk
19 June 2018 (Match 2)
18:00 MSK (UTC+3) 11 A.M ET
Poland Vs Senegal @ Otkritie Arena, Moscow
24 June 2018 (Match 3)
20:00 YEKT (UTC+5) 11 A.M ET
Japan Vs Senegal @ Central Stadium, Yekaterinburg
24 June 2018 (Match 4)
21:00 MSK (UTC+3) 2 P.M ET
Poland Vs Colombia @ Kazan Arena, Kazan
28 June 2018 (Match 5)
17:00 MSK (UTC+3) 10 A.M ET
Japan Vs Poland @ Volgograd Arena, Volgograd
28 June 2018 (Match 6)
18:00 SAMT (UTC+4) 10 A.M ET
Senegal Vs Colombia @ Cosmos Arena, Samara
Quick notes about the history of each team at the FIFA World Cup.
Colombia will be making their 6th World Cup appearance, and are following up a quarterfinals appearance in Brazil. After a third place finish at the 2016 Copa America, Colombia is starting to gain respect at the International level. Despite ranking 16th, according to the FIFA World Ranking, Colombia was listed as high as 3rd as recently as August of 2016.
Poland has made seven previous showings at the World Cup, with two 3rd place finishes being their best results. Despite being ranked 10th in the World by FIFA, Poland is secondary favorite to Colombia in group H.
Senegal is back at the World Cup for only the second time in their history, their first coming in 2002. Ironically, their first World Cup win came against France, who formerly governed Senegal before they claimed Independence in 1960.
Japan co-hosted that 2002 World Cup, and now they’re making their sixth-straight appearance at the event. Success had eluded The Samurai Blue, having bowed out of the tournament by the second round on all five occasions.
Colombia Team Page
For the team roster and other highlights, check the Colombia team page.
Colombia may be listed as the group favorite, but at +125 they are only $50 better than Poland at +175. No other group features all four teams listed at +money, making this the tightest group at the World Cup.
Radamel Falcao will be wearing the Captain’s arm band, and he is no stranger to the big stage. After a little over a year from being away from the Colombian National Team, Falcao was asked to take part in qualifying, despite being left off the squad for the Copa America in 2016.
Colombia Manager José Pékerman has been with the team since 2012, and he and Falcao have not had the best relationship. Showing confidence in Falcao certainly aided their path to Russia, as he broke the Colombia team record for goals (29) during the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying process.
Not that there is relevance, but I must add that I once sat 3 hours on an airplane in the seat next to Carlos Valderamma. He is Colombia’s all-time capped leader with 111, and the flight was from New York to Miami in June of 2000. Legend! Anyway, that was unreal. Imagine as you pull up to find your seat, when Carlos Valderamma says “Ola”, and your seat is 15A and his is 15B!
Phew, okay sorry, but I mean come on now. Would you not mention that if it happened to you? Awesome moment, talking football with Valderamma, and he was going on the same cruise my wife and I were taking out of Miami. I saw him about 4 more times on the boat, and he was always cool with me, since I was cool on the plane! Great memories, but back to football.
Goalkeeper David Ospina takes his 86 experienced caps with him to the World Cup in 2018. He was on that Copa American Centenario squad that made it to third place in the tournament. Since moving to Arsenal four campaigns ago, Ospina was used largely for European appearances, more than EPL outings. Under newly-retired Arsene Wenger, Ospina made 29 league appearances, but featured in 41 Cup and UEFA tournament appearances.
Colombia’s most experienced players mostly play in Italian Serie A. Defensemen Cristián Zapata has been with AC Milan since 2012 and the National Team since 2007. The 31-year-old was part of the Colombian U-20 squad that took the 2005 South American Youth Championships. His 55 caps lead the back line in experience, and he’ll be joined on the right side by Santiago Arias. Arias plays at club level with PSV Eindhoven, and carries 41 caps with the squad.
Forward Duván Zapata plays at Sampdoria of Serie A, and he is just beginning to get his feet wet at the International level.
Midfielder Carlos Sánchez plays at Fiorentina, carrying 85 caps of experience with him to Russia.
Juan Cuadrado played every position on the pitch for Juventus this past campaign. He played right back for the last three matches of the campaign for Juve, as they were fighting to win a seventh-straight Scudetto title. He adds 70 caps to the midfield, and he obviously gives José Pékerman some versatility he may need as group H plays out.
James Rodríguez has jumped from Spain to Germany in club play, as he just helped Bayern Munich win another Bundesliga title. Rodriguez and Abel Aguilar have combined to earn 133 caps out of the Colombian midfield.
Poland Team Page
For the team roster and other highlights, check the Poland team page.
Let’s use Bayern Munich as a segue, since the most recognizable player for Poland also hangs out in Germany.
Robert Lewandowski has become a household name in Poland, Germany, and anywhere else you want to talk football. Despite his success in Germany with Bayern Munich, Lewandowski has got to have the tournament of his life in Russia. He certainly proved he could handle it in UEFA W.C qualifying, outscoring Ronaldo (15) with 16 goals.
The concern for all of us who have the assignment of previewing Poland turn right to their supporting cast. That is not a list full of household names, and it has us wondering who else will provide leadership.
Midfielder Kamil Grosicki was the only other player for Poland with multiple goals (3) in UEFA qualifying. He can provide some stability and composure up front, and has a nice crisp touch to all of his passes going forward.
So, where else does the production come from for Poland?
Forward Arkadiusz Milik is more of a complementary player to Lewandowski, but his ACL injuries will likely leave him off the finalized rosters.
Krzysztof Piątek is a 22-year-old phenom, who just put up almost 20 goals for Polish club Cracovia of Ekstraklasa. Might we see some youth on the pitch for the Biało-czerwoni in Russia?
Juventus backup keeper Wojciech Szczęsny obviously sees limited time behind GiGi Buffon, but he will be the guy for manager Adam Nawałka.
Wolfsburg midfielder Jakub Błaszczykowski leads the squad with 97 caps. Błaszczykowski, Kamil Grosicki and Piotr Zieliński were in the starting XI constantly in qualifying. They will have to add to their 35 combined goals scored.
For the team roster and other highlights, check the Senegal team page.
If you follow European football leagues, you certainly recognize plenty of names on the squad from Senegal. In fact, manager Aliou Cissé has brought five midfielders to Russia, and they all play in the English Premier League.
Cheikhou Kouyaté wears the Captain’s arm band for the Lions of Teranga, and he is one of three 28-year-olds in the midfield. Everton’s Idrissa Gueye leads the trio in caps with 59, while Alfred N’Diaye adds 19 of his own.
Cheikh N’Doye (32) and Badou Ndiaye (27) round out the midfield for Senegal, but overall this is a young squad. Out of all qualifying teams at the World Cup, Senegal averages 26.4 years old per player. You can find that stat at the FIFA site right HERE.
Kalidou Koulibaly and Kara Mbodji will be hand-in-hand in the middle of the Senegalese defensive line. Koulibaly is another Serie A player from this group who plays for Napoli. Napoli gave Juventus all they could handle in the race for the Italian Scudetto this past season.
Moussa Sow is Senegal’s active leading scorer with 18 goals from his 50 caps. He is only 11 away from catching Henri Camara’s mark set at 29 with the squad.
Striker Sadio Mané was an integral part of Liverpool’s run to the UEFA Champions League finals. Despite losing 3 – 1 to Real Madrid, Mané scored 10 goals in Premier League play with Liverpool this past campaign, and added 10 more during their Champions League campaign.
Are you starting to see what I mean about following European football? These Senegal players may not have the most experience together, and sure they are certainly young.
Of all the groups to land in, however, there is only one UEFA team here, and Japan is ranked 60th in the World by FIFA.
Let’s take that opportunity to roll over to Asia, and see if Japan can muster up an upset in group H.
Japan Team Page
For the team roster and other highlights, check the Japan team page.
Even though Japan seems like they may be a pushover in Russia, being listed at +700 to win the group isn’t all that bad. Consider that when you look at our other previews here at World in Sport, we see teams facing +1,400 and +2,100 type of numbers.
Granted there is no Germany, Spain, Brazil, or Argentina types of teams in group H, but +700 is respectable. Obviously providing a surprise, or maybe even two, is what Japan will have to pull off at the 2018 World Cup.
How about we laugh at Wikipedia a bit today?!
They say Japan is the most successful team in Asian football/soccer history, because they’ve made it to 5 straight World Cups. YAY team! Please sit down, because if winning four Asian Cups is all it takes to be that recognized, it ain’t enough at the World Cup!
Is South Korea not making their 10th appearance at the World Cup this year, making them the most successful nation at the World Cup from Asia? Oh, hold on, didn’t South Korea come in fourth place in 2002 at the World Cup they co-hosted, and Japan has never even passed the round of 16 — Ever?!
While that debate rages on, let’s try to see if Japan is actually worth the semi-respect the odds makers have given them.
Speaking of South Korea, however, Japan accomplished almost exactly what South Korea did in Asian W.C qualifying. Japan and South Korea each scored 27 goals and didn’t allow one in their second round of qualifying group stage. South Korea went 8 – 0 – 0, and Japan settled for a 7 wins and a draw to win their respective groups.
Japan bettered South Korea in the final phase of AFC qualifying with a 6 – 2 – 2 record, although both are here, as mentioned.
Shinji Kagawa led Japan in scoring during the first part of the AFC qualification phase, scoring six times in the second round. He only scored once in the third round that eventually put Japan through to Russia, as Genki Haraguchi was the only player to score more than once (4) in the final phase.
Kagawa and Haraguchi are part of a massive midfield presence on Japan’s 23-man roster. Coach Nishino decided to bring 9 midfielders to Russia, and only three forwards.
Makoto Hasebe is the Captain of the squad and he, too, plays from the midfield carrying 109 caps with him to Russia. Hasebe recently led Frankfurt to the DFB Pokal (German Cup) title, which was a massive upset over Bayern Munich who was strongly favored in the final.
Keisuke Honda is another of the midfielders with experience to bring to the table. The former AC Milan man appeared in both the 2010 and 2014 World Cups for the team, and had a major influence on both outings.
Striker Shinji Okazaki is the most capped player on the squad at 112, and he has found the net 50 times in his career.
The other two forwards joining Shinji are Yoshinori Mutō and Yūya Ōsako, who have a combined 49 caps, respectively. The two play in German Bundesliga, and have also added 9 goals in their careers.
Many were wondering if retired goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki might still have interest in playing for Japan. Eiji Kawashima seems to be in favor of Akira Nishino, as the 35-year-old brings a level of experience to the mix.
Defensemen Maya Yoshida has featured in 81 matches for Japan, and has added 10 goals off the back line as well. He and Yūto Nagatomo’s 104 caps will present some issues for the rest of this group, should Japan do well.
Yūto Nagatomo brings the most experience on the back line, carrying 104 caps with Japan.
Group H World Cup Predictions
As an experienced tipster in my own right, when we see lines like these within a group, it makes us think about where the surprises will come. Yes, that means that surprises are coming, because even though Colombia is favored to take group H, it isn’t exactly convincing at +125.
The lines being what they are, the second day of group H play will likely influence the entire group.
Senegal plays Japan and Colombia takes on Poland in the middle fixture of group play.
This could certainly be one of the lower-scoring groups, so be on the lookout for plays on totals towards the under.
That said, there is value in predicting the right set of results, so let’s pick two out.
There are two plays at Bwin that make sense and hold value to the bettors out there.
Senegal to finish last in the group is listed at +200, and we surmise that Japan will at least take third.
Colombia and Poland to qualify for the round of 16 is listed at +100, with even money odds on the prop bet. Try either of those two plays on for size, and we hope you have enjoyed our previews of the World Cup.
We have predictions for all eight groups on World in Sport, and should you fancy action during match play, you can leave a message on the site or contact me on my twitter page @Ejtherainmaker.
Thank you for checking us out, so let’s start playing some football!