The final group of the 2018 World Cup, let’s take a look at Group H from the 2018 World Cup! Here’s the list of groups, one last time.
Draw: Poland, Colombia, Senegal, Japan
This is a very exciting group. It is very tough to easily predict 1-4 from this group. Any team can pull off a result against anyone, making this a group to watch for sure.
In 2014, James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich, Germany) broke out as a star. He headlined a team with tons of attacking talent. This time around, he continues to be the focal point of the attack. He leads the team in both goals and assists in WCQs and is in great form for Colombia. They have experienced a decent qualifying run, losing only to Argentina and Paraguay. This team is going to be a lot of fun to watch.
In the back, David Ospina (Arsenal, England) is between the sticks. He has shown his class for Colombia in the Copa America in 2016 and in his limited chances for Arsenal, and is one of the most underrated goalkeepers at the tournament. Cristian Zapata (Milan, Italy) and Jeison Murillo (Valencia, Spain) hold down the defense. They helped Colombia achieve 5 clean sheets in 10 games. The biggest issue with this back line is that they get very few chances with their first team. This means there is a good chance they will struggle with attacking powers like Robert Lewandowski of Poland. However, what they lack in defense, they more than make up in the attack.
In midfield, James is aided by a multitude of players. Juan Cuadrado (Juventus, Italy) and Juan Quintero (Independiente, Colombia) bring up the wings. Cuadrado has 1 goal and 3 assists so far, but his worth comes in much more than goals and assists. He has the ability to make defenders look silly with his skills and pace. This helps set other players up all over the pitch. Carlos Sanchez (Fiorentina, Italy) gives balance as the lone CDM in the team.
In attack, Carlos Bacca (Villareal, Spain) is the main man, with 3 goals and 3 assists so far. Bacca has tallied 5 times for his club team as well. He is aided by Rademel Falcao (Monaco, France). Falcao has 15 goals with his club team, as well as 2 for his country. This team has a lot of attacking weapons and a strong enough defense that the will top the group.
Led by one of the best strikers in the world at the moment, Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich, Germany), Poland’s attack is strong. Honestly, all around the pitch, they have a strong team. They are young and promising and have a good mix of experience as well. Poland have had a poor history in international tournaments, but looked very sharp in Euro 2016, making it to the quarter-finals and losing to future-champions Portugal in extra time. They only lost 1 WCQ and scored more than one goal in every game except that loss. They are one of the more dangerous teams in this entire tournament.
The back line is the biggest issue for Poland. They have only kept 2 clean sheets in 10 WCQs. Starting in the back, it’s Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea City, England) in net. Fabianski has been towards the top of the premier league in saves each of the past 3 years since earning the starting spot at Swansea. He will keep Poland in every game they play. Kamil Glik (Monaco, France) and Lukasz Piszczek (Dortmund, Germany) headline the backline. Piszczek adds to the attacking effort as well, working hard up the wings and even getting himself a goal. They will look to sort things out defensively if they are to experience success this World Cup.
In the midfield, Jakub Blaszczykowski (Wolfsburg, Germany) leads the team in WCQ appearances. He is a hardworking winger that has experience in Germany and Italy, he has dropped off in goal scoring over the past few years, but will provide quality service to Lewandowski. He is joined by Piotr Zielinski (Napoli, Italy). Zielinski leads Poland with 4 assists in WCQs and also has 5 goals to his name for his club team. He is having a steady year for Napoli, and will look to continue that form. Grzegorz Krychowiak (West Brom, England) will solidify the defensive part of the midfield.
Then there’s the attack, made up of the aforementioned Robert Lewandowski and Kamil Grosicki (Hull City, England). Lewandowski’s 16 goals for his country are the most of any striker for his team in WCQs in the world. Grosicki has added 3 goals and 3 assists of his own. Arkadiusz Milik (Napoli, Italy) is also available off the bench to add attacking help. He is struggling for game time in Italy, but has a goal in 5 appearances for Poland. Poland will be good. However, their recent turn of international form needs to be proven on the big stage. If Lewandowski is shut down for just one game, their tournament could be over in the blink of an eye. A second-place finish for them seems most likely.
The Senegalese have gone through a near perfect WCQ cycle, only drawing twice and never losing. They’ve scored at least 2 goals in 5 of 6 WCQs, and have a very dangerous attack. Their defensive midfield is solid and can make up for what they may not have in natural defensive strength.
In goal, Khadim N’Diaye (Horoya AC, Senegal) will most likely get the nod, while there is a chance that Abdoulaye Diallo (Rennes, France) plays as well. These two have split the WCQs for Senegal, jointly earning 3 clean sheets. In front of either of them, Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli, Italy), Saliou Ciss (Angers, France), and Lamine Gassama (Alanyaspor, Turkey) will attempt to keep opposing attackers at bay. Koulibaly will lead this line, with the most experience in both European and Champions League play.
In the midfield, Idrissa Gana Gueye (Everton, England), Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham, England) and Cheikh N’Doye (Birmingham City, England) will combine to take up the defensive midfield responsibilities. Gueye led the Premier League last year in tackles and interceptions. Him sitting in front of Koulibaly will create a very strong defensive center that will be very hard to break down.
In attack, it’s all about Sadio Mane (Liverpool, England). He started off the Premier League season in great form with 4 goals. His production has faltered a bit after an injury, but when he gets back into rhythm, no one can stop him. He is joined by Moussa Sow (Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club, UAE), and Keita Balde Diao (Monaco, France) on the wings. They provide a very pacey option that can torch any defender. The dangerous attack and stronger defensive core give Senegal a solid chance against any team they come up against. However, at the end of the day, the pure talent of player like Lewandowski and James will find a way to break them down. They will get a nice third-place finish and be primed for a solid tournament in 2022.
The Japanese are constantly one of the best teams out of the Asia bracket. They stormed onto the scene in 2010, after making it out of Group E, led by Keisuke Honda (Pachuca, Mexico) and Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka, Japan). However, this bright time for Japan seems to be in the past. They lost twice in WCQs and very rarely controlled games. The back line is weak and will struggle to contain players like Lewandowski, Mane, or James. Their attack is good, but won’t make up for what they let up.
In the back, Shusaku Nishikawa (Urawa Reds, Japan) is in goal. He is a consistent starter for his club, but was only in goal for one of Japan’s 4 clean sheets. In front of him, Maya Yoshida (Southampton, England) and Yuto Nagatomo (Inter, Italy) look to keep things organized, which is no easy task. Hiroki Sakai (Marseille, France) and Masato Morishige (Tokyo, Japan) join them. They are a fairly attacking back line as well, recording 5 goals and 4 assists between the 4 of them.
In the midfield, a lot of pressure will be put on the likes of Makoto Hasebe (Frankfurt, Germany) to control the defensive midfield and stop as many potential attacks as possible. Honda and Shinji Kagawa (Dortmund, Germany) will have to do the bulk of the string pulling. They have combined for 13 goals and 3 assists in the WCQ cycle, and will need to continue that form if Japan are going to succeed this tournament. They are joined by Genki Haraguchi (Hertha Berlin, Germany) and Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka, Japan). These two will do their best to contribute what they can to the attack.
Up front, it is the team’s third leading goal scorer, Shinji Okazaki (Leicester City, England) leading the line. He has 5 for Japan and another 6 for Leicester. He always ends up popping on the end of goals most people would not expect him to. Japan as a whole will have to count on those types of goals if they really want to shock teams this year, however, it is very unlikely their midfield has the skills to outplay the Polish or the Colombians. They don’t have the defense to deal with the attacking skill of the Senegalese either. So a last place finish is most likely, and they will not advance.