No group is more wide open than Group H at the 2018 World Cup. This is the only one of the eight groups where there is no team that is listed as an odds-on favorite according to the oddsmakers, and the only one without a team that is 10-1 or higher.
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After their performance at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Colombia should be the favorite in this group. Colombia looked great four years ago, and James Rodriguez had one of the best debuts you can imagine at the World Cup. He scored six goals en route to winning the Golden Boot, despite Colombia getting knocked off in the Quarterfinals.
There is still plenty of offensive firepower on Colombia. Rodriguez will be back and looking to show off once again after an up-and-down stint at Real Madrid, and he will be joined by Radamel Falcao, and Juan Cuadrado.
In particular, Cuadrado will play a key role. Colombia has a solid goalkeeper in David Ospina, but there is young, unproven talent along the back line other than Cristian Zapata. Cuadrado is a defensive midfielder that is always looking to challenge and contest for the ball, and that should help this unit out immensely.
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The Poles are very solid in two areas. Poland has a great goalkeeper in Wojciech Szczesny, and a solid reserve in Lukasz Fabianski, and a world-class forward in Robert Lewandowski. Szczesny won’t make mistakes in goal for Poland, and he should be the best goalkeeper in the group.
Lewandowski is looking to build off of the best World Cup Qualifying performance we’ve ever seen. He scored a record 16 goals in 10 qualifying matches, showcasing the talent that has made him the main man for Bayern Munich. Lewandowski gives this team a threat to score at all times, but they are lacking in other areas.
Poland has a good defense, but it lacks the solid midfield that other countries have. They are going to have trouble gaining possession against some of the teams in this group, and that will cause problems.
The one previous time that the Lions of Teranga made it to the World Cup, they surprised everyone. Senegal made it to the Quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup, defeating France and Sweden before being upended by Turkey. They would love to do something like that once again.
This side has some good talent up front and a swarming midfield that will continually challenge for possession. Sadio Mane has had a breakout year with Liverpool, and he will be the one that the rest of the team looks to for goals. He has shown an ability to finish this season, but the big question is can anyone create. Senegal has concerns at the back, so they need to score goals.
During qualifying, manager Vahid Halilhodzic brought out different lineups than what we were used to from Japan. Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa, and Shinji Okazaki were all either on the bench or not re-called by Halilhodzic, but lately they have been featured once more.
Keep an eye on what tactics Japan uses in the friendlies before the World Cup. Halilhodzic has traditionally preferred to have just one man up top, but he seems to be backing off of that and coming up with a strategy that is more in line with what we usually see from Japan. This isn’t a team that likes to park the bus and counter, but instead rolls the dice by pushing forward.
Colombia will win the group somewhat easily, but second place is up for grabs. I think Senegal is worth a shot at these odds, as they should not be this far behind Poland.
2018 FIFA World Cup Teams to Advance: Colombia and Senegal
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