Born in the south east of Ireland, Simon put his life-long love of football to good use when he started a successful independent blog in 2010. That opened up an alternative route to a career in journalism, and having had work published across a number of sites and publications, Simon joined the staff at Spotlight Sports Group in 2018.
Group H in this summer’s 2018 World Cup in Russia looks among the toughest sections to evaluate. The talent is spread quite evenly among the four competing nations; Poland, Colombia, Senegal and Japan, making Group H potentially one of the most compelling World Cup opening quartets.
Colombia are the bookmakers’ pick to finish on top of the Group, even though La Tricolor were frustratingly inconsistent during qualification. The bookies are also tipping Poland to make it out of Group H, though it’s interesting to note that they conceded more goals in qualifying than any other UEFA based nation that made it to the World Cup.
Senegal and Japan won’t be content to make up the numbers however and both teams have the personnel required to cause an upset or two. Let’s take a closer look at the four teams competing in Group H of World Cup 2018.
FIFA Ranking: 10
Best Finish: Third Place (1974, 1982)
Having missed out on qualifying for the last two tournaments in 2014 and 2010, Poland will be competing at their 8th World Cup this summer. Their route to Russia came via UEFA Qualification Region Group E, where they fended off a strong Danish challenge to finish top.
Poland won eight of their ten matches in their qualification group, though their one defeat was a 0-4 mauling at the hands of Denmark in Copenhagen. In total, the Polish defence shipped fourteen goals across their ten matches. The only nation at World Cup 2018 that conceded more goal in qualification was Peru.
But who needs a solid defence when you have Robert Lewandowski in your team? The talismanic Bayern Munich centre forward scored sixteen times in qualification, a total that accounted for 57% of all Poland’s goals in Group E.
FIFA Ranking: 16
Best Finish: Quarter Finals (2014)
Colombia will be looking to emulate their performances from the 2014 World Cup at this summer’s tournament. Inspired by the virtuoso displays of James Rodriguez, La Tricolor battled their way to the Quarter Finals four years ago and the attacking midfielder will be key to Colombia’s chances of progression again in Russia.
Rodriguez was Colombia’s top scorer in their CONMEBOL qualification section, netting six times in total. The Colombians were at best mercurial and at worst erratic in qualifying – they won just seven of their eighteen matches, but contrarily, they were beaten on just five occasions.
Interestingly, Colombia were also drawn in the same group as Japan at World Cup 2014 in Brazil, beating them 4-1 when the sides met in Cuiabá on match day three. Colombia’s squad looks strong enough to see off the Japanese again this year, though it feels like the key fixture in determining their fate will be against Senegal in the final game in Group H on June 28th.
FIFA Ranking: 28
Best Finish: Quarter Finals (2002)
Senegal will be appearing at a World Cup Finals for only the second time in their history this summer. The Lions of Teranga produced one of the most compelling storylines of the competition the last time they were in it, beating defending champions France in the opening fixture of the 2002 tournament in Seoul.
Their fairy tale eventually ended in the Quarter Finals with a 1-0 loss to Turkey, though their overall World Cup experience was undoubtedly a positive one. Senegal coasted though qualification for Russia, finishing undefeated and top of CAF Group D ahead of Burkino Faso, Cape Verde and South Africa.
Senegal’s players are talented but a little untested at this level and they will hope to draw on the experience of manager Aliou Cissé, who captained the country at the World Cup in 2002. Cisse’s selection has a healthy sprinkling of stardust in it with Liverpool’s Sadio Mane and Monaco’s Keita Baldé both hoping to shine this summer.
FIFA Ranking: 60
Best Finish: Round of 16 (2002, 2010)
Russia 2018 will be Japan’s 6th successive World Cup Finals, though their consistency in reaching the Finals hasn’t been matched by their actual performances in them. Japan were eliminated at the Group Stage in three of the five World Cups they have participated in so far, and they were knockout out in the last sixteen on the other two occasions.
Given their history, Japan are understandably rank outsiders to make it out of Group H and the bookmakers’ prices reflect that. The Samurai Blue won their qualification group ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia, though the AFC region is generally considered one of the weakest under FIFA’s worldwide umbrella.
Fifteen of Japan’s twenty-three-man squad are currently at clubs in either Japan or Germany and it’s in the Bundesliga that their key players operate. Borussia Dortmund’s Shinji Kagawa, Mainz’ Yoshinori Mutō and Eintracht Frankfurt’s Makoto Hasebe help to breathe some life into an otherwise ordinary looking panel of players.
Group A Fixtures
Tuesday 19th June – Colombia vs Japan – 1pm, Saransk (BBC)
Tuesday 19th June – Poland vs Senegal – 4pm, Moscow (ITV)
Sunday 24th June – Japan vs Senegal – 4pm, Yekaterinburg (BBC)
Sunday 24th June – Poland vs Colombia – 7pm, Kazan (ITV)
Thursday 29th June – Japan vs Poland – 3pm, Volgograd (BBC)
Thursday 29th June – Senegal vs Colombia – 3pm, Samara (BBC)
Who is Travelling the Furthest in Group H?
Of the 32 teams competing in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Group Stage, Colombia will have to travel the shortest overall distance. From their base in the Republic of Tatarstan, the Colombians’ fixtures will require them to travel to nearby Saransk, followed by a short drive Kazan, and finally a trip to Samara. The total distance that Colombia will travel is 1,158 miles, a journey that would take twenty-six hours by road, or just three hours in the air.
In contrast, their biggest rivals for top spot in Group H, Poland, have 5,746 miles to cover which is 130 hours by road or 15 hours by air. Senegal will have to negotiate 3,082 miles of travel, which equates to 92 hours by road or 11 hours by air, while Japan will have to trek a total of 2,962 miles, which works out at 66 hours by road or 8 hours by air.
Who is Going to Qualify From Group H?
Poland’s exhausting looking travel itinerary is a factor, especially in what looks one of the tightest Groups at the first stage of the World Cup. However, having dropped only five points in a tough qualification section, optimism in the Polish camp will be high.
With little to choose between the teams in Group H, the individual fixtures should be keenly contested affairs. Goal scoring chances are likely to be at a premium, and the final order of the section could be very well be determined by who is the most clinical in attack.
Step forward Robert Lewandowski. Arguably the most lethal finisher at this summer’s World Cup, the Bayern Munich hitman’s performances are likely to be pivotal in helping Poland finish first in Group H.
Colombia will run them close however and they will be hoping that the defensive deficiencies Poland showed in qualification haven’t been fully eradicated. Senegal have the tools required to be a problem-causing surprise package, though we expect them to miss out on a place in the last sixteen to Poland and Colombia.
Read more: Our Group Winner Predictions for Every Group
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