Manuel Veth –
Several World Cup teams have now announced their World Cup squads, and with the tournament kicking off in less than one week it is time to look ahead to the group stage of the tournament. Up next is our World Cup Group H preview.
Group H team by team breakdown:
Poland are without a doubt among the teams that could surprise at this summer’s tournament. The Biało-czerwoniqualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia after finishing their UEFA qualification Group E in first place with 25 points – ahead of Denmark, Montenegro, Romania, Armenia and Kazakhstan – in what was perhaps one of the most evenly matched qualification groups ahead of the tournament.
Drawn into Group H with Senegal, Colombia and Japan Poland once again face a tough and balanced group. But the Biało-czerwoni have good reasons to be optimistic about what will be their eight World Cup in the country’s history.
In those eight tournaments, Poland have had their heights and lows. Two third places, in 1974 and 1982, were the highlights for a country that had a golden generation in the 1970s and 1980s. Those years, however, were followed by bleak results that were mostly the result of the economic recession in the 1980s and the struggles of the country’s rebuilt following years of communism in the 1990s.
In recent years, however, Poland’s economy and football has been on the up. The successful hosting of the 2012 European Championships has meant new stadiums and infrastructure, which in turn has meant that the country has been better in developing youth players. As a result, Poland have brought a balanced side to the tournament that has some legitimate hopes of repeating the glories of previous golden generations.
Players to watch:
Robert Lewandowski will be the key player for Poland at this World Cup. The Bayern München forward has been recently in the news as he wants to leave his club this summer for a new challenge. Bayern, in the meantime, have been adamant that they will not let their star striker go – the question now will be how much the potential conflict between Bayern and Lewandowski will hamper the forward’s performances this summer. After all, Poland have not won a game since Euro 2016 when Lewandowski did not score. Hence, even though the side includes other top players like forwards Lukasz Teodorczyk, Arakdiusz Milik, Lukasz Piszczek and Piotr Zielinski much will depend on Lewandowski’s abilities to put the ball into the net.
Goalkeepers: Bartosz Bialkowski (Ipswich), Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea City), Wojciech Szczesny (Juventus)
Defenders:Jan Bednarek (Southampton), Bartosz Bereszynski (Sampdoria), Thiago Cionek (SPAL), Kamil Glik (Monaco), Artur Jedrzejczyk (Legia Warsaw), Michal Pazdan (Legia Warsaw), Lukasz Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund)
Midfielders:Jakub Blaszczykowski (Wolfsburg), Jacek Goralski (Ludogorets Razgrad), Kamil Grosicki (Hull City), Grzegorz Krychowiak (Paris St-Germain), Rafal Kurzawa (Gornik Zabrze), Karol Linetty (Sampdoria), Slawomir Peszko (Lechnia Gdansk), Maciej Rybus (Lokomotiv Moscow), Piotr Zielinski (Napoli)
Forwards:Dawid Kownacki (Sampdoria), Robert Lewandowski (Bayern München), Arkadiusz Milik (Napoli), Lukasz Teodorczyk (Anderlecht).
Senegal qualified for the tournament after beating Madagascar in the second round of African qualification and the first in Group D of the third round of African World Cup qualifying. Placed in a group with Burkina Faso, Cape Verde and South Africa Senegal collected 14 out of 18 possible points finishing five points ahead of second-placed Burkina Faso.
As a result, Les Lions de la Teranga are now back at the World Cup for the first time since 2002. One of the big outsiders of the 2002 FIFA World Cup in South Korea and Japan Senegal stormed all the way to the quarterfinals – where Turkey eliminated them. Before that Senegal had beaten France in the group stage and ultimately managed to finish second in Group A behind Denmark – ahead of Uruguay and France.
Placed in a very well-balanced Group H with Poland, Colombia and Japan Senegal are now hoping to repeat their success at their one and only World Cup appearance 16 years ago. Essential for Senegal will be the match against Japan in which Les Lions de la Terranga will need all three points if they want to leave either Colombia or Poland behind in Group H.
Players to watch:
Senegal’s biggest star without a doubt will be Liverpool forward Sadio Mané. Mané has been in fantastic form with his club this season forming a deadly trident partnership with Egypt’s Mohamed Salah and Brazil’s Roberto Firmino. For Senegal Mané will try to replicate that partnership in concert with M’Baye Niang (Milan) and Mame Biram Diouf Stoke. In defence, Senegal’s most important player will be Kalidou Koulibaly whereas Hannover’s Salif Sané will be tasked with linking up the defence with the midfield.
Goalkeepers: Khadim N’Diaye (Horoya AC), Abdoulaye Diallo (Rennes), Alfred Gomis (Torino)
Defenders: Kara Mbodji (Anderlecht), Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli), Moussa Wague (Eupen), Saliou Ciss (Angers), Youssouf Sabaly (Bordeaux), Lamine Gassama (Alanyaspor)
Midfielders: Badou Ndiaye (Stoke), Idrissa Gueye (Everton), Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham), Cheikh N’Doye (Birmingham), Salif Sane (Hannover 96), Alfred N’Diaye (Villarreal)
Forwards: Moussa Sow (Bursaspor), Sadio Mane (Liverpool), Keita Balde Diao (Monaco), Moussa Konate (Amiens), Ismaila Sarr (Rennes), Diafra Sakho (Rennes), Mame Biram Diouf (Stoke), M’Baye Niang (AC Milan)
Colombia once again head to a World Cup as a country that could surprise the world by winning the whole thing. Colombia dazzled at the 2014 FIFA World Cup four years ago but only finished fourth in the CONMEBOL qualification group behind Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina and ahead of Peru, Chile, Paraguay, Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela.
Los Cafeteros qualification record, therefore, suggests that Colombia could struggle at the World Cup. In truth, Colombia intermixed great results – a 3-2 victory over France in the spring – with unspectacular draws against Australia and Egypt.
Another question will be how head coach José Pekerman will manage to unify a team that includes world stars like James Rodríguez, Juan Cuadrado, Carlos Bacca and Radamel Falcao with up and coming stars who are still plying their trade in South America.
Pekerman, however, is considered one of the most astute tactical coaches in the world and the 68-year-old has coached Colombia successfully since 2012. At the same time the Pekerman era has not seen a title triumph and perhaps Colombia can turn some heads at the World Cup as the nation without a doubt will emerge from this Group H to challenge some of the top countries for the title.
Players to watch:
Colombia’s side includes some of the flashiest attacking players in the world game. Names like Radamel Falcao and Carlos Bacca will bring terror to any defensive line Los Cafeteros will face at the World Cup. Orchestrating the attack, however, will be Bayern’s James, who is currently in the form of his life. The attacking midfielder was recently voted the best player of the Bundesliga by the Futbolgrad Gegenpressing Podcast and will once again be one of the biggest stars at the World Cup after having already dazzled at the world’s biggest stage four years ago.
Goalkeepers: David Ospina (Arsenal), Camilo Vargas (Deportivo Cali), Jose Fernando Cuadrado (Once Caldas)
Defenders: Cristian Zapata (Milan), Davinson Sanchez (Tottenham), Santiago Arias (PSV Eindhoven), Oscar Murillo (Pachuca), Frank Fabra (Boca Juniors), Johan Mojica (Girona), Yerry Mina (Barcelona)
Midfielders:Wílmar Barrios (Boca Juniors), Carlos Sanchez (Espanyol), Jefferson Lerma (Levante), Jose Izquierdo (Brighton), James Rodriguez (Bayern München), Abel Aguilar (Deportivo Cali), Mateus Uribe (America), Juan Fernando Quintero (River Plate), Juan Cuadrado (Juventus)
Forwards: Radamel Falcao (Monaco), Miguel Borja (Palmeiras), Carlos Bacca (Villarreal), Luis Fernando Muriel (Sevilla)
For many years Japan were considered one of the emerging nations when it came to international football. Japan have now qualified for the sixth World Cup in a row after finishing first in round two of AFC qualifying and once again first in Group B of the third round of AFC World Cup qualifying.
At the second stage, Japan left the likes of Saudi Arabia, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Iraq and Thailand in the dust to reach the World Cup. But while Japanese football has stabilised as a force that will always be at the major tournaments, there is now a sense that the country has to make the next step.
Japan has never gotten past the round of 16 at the World Cup but a side that possesses several experienced players that have been part of the European game for some time is now expected to get further. But can they do it? The truth is while the side is experienced this generation of players may also be playing their last significant tournament together. The likes of Keisuke Honda, who now competes in Mexico, Shinji Kagawa, Makoto Hasebe and Shinji Okazaki are all in the fall of their respective careers.
Furthermore, some of the big names in the side are looking back to a difficult season, and Japan are facing tough opposition from the very start of the tournament. Hence, the Blue Samurai could be the odd team out when it comes to Group H as both Poland and Colombia are ranked slightly ahead of them regarding our internal power ranking.
Players to watch:
Japan have players on every position that play in top European leagues. A very well balanced side depth will be the strength of the Blue Samurai, but at the same time, players like Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) and Shinji Okazaki (Leicester) will be asked to provide the special moments for this side. One of the central questions will be whether Keisuke Honda will be on form to be a factor. Honda currently plays in Mexico where he was mostly average for Pachuca both in the Apertura and the Clausura.
Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Metz), Masaaki Higashiguchi (Gamba Osaka), Kosuke Nakamura (Kashiwa Reysol)
Defenders: Yuto Nagatomo (Galatasaray), Tomoaki Makino, Wataru Endo (both Urawa Reds), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Hiroki Sakai (Marseille), Gotoku Sakai (Hamburg), Gen Shoji, Naomichi Ueda (both Kashima Antlers)
Midfielders: Makoto Hasebe (Eintracht Frankfurt), Keisuke Honda (Pachuca), Takashi Inui (Eibar), Shinji Kagawa (Dortmund), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Genki Haraguchi (Hertha Berlin), Takashi Usami (Augsburg), Gaku Shibasaki (Getafe), Ryota Oshima (Kawasaki Frontale)
Forwards: Shinji Okazaki (Leicester), Yuya Osako (Werder Bremen), Yoshinori Muto (Mainz)
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others works for the Bundesliga and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.