World Cup predictions for Group H: Colombia, Japan, Poland, Senegal
A World Cup preview, with predictions for Group H, which features Colombia, Japan, Poland and Senegal and opens play on Tuesday with Colombia vs. Japan and Poland vs. Senegal.
Predicted order of finish: Colombia, Poland, Japan, Senegal
Six months ago, FIFA conducted the draw using the most recent rankings to determine the top eight seeds. The exception to the rule was Russia, an automatic seed. Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Belgium, Portugal and France didn't surprise anyone.
And then there was Poland.
Poland, which failed to qualify for five of the previous seven World Cups and didn't get out of the group stage in the other two? Poland, which needed 48 years to qualify for its first European Championship?
There are explanations.
The rising P oles enjoyed a fruitful Euro '16 by equaling Germany's point total in group play and defeating Croatia in the round of 16 before losing to Portugal on penalty kicks. They steamed through qualifying with an 8-1-1 record. And by playing only one friendly between the end of the Euros and the draw, they didn't expose themselves to a potential plunge in the rankings.
Although they avoided the titans in the group stage, they still have their work cut out for them. The marquee figure is Robert Lewandowski, who scored 89 league goals the past three Bayern Munich campaigns and 10 in World Cup qualifying.
Poland will need his scoring to finish ahead of Colombia, which is more talented and tested to go deep in the tournament. Top billing goes to James Rodriguez, the 2014 Golden Boot winner with six goals during a quarterfinal run.
The strength of Los Cafeteros (Coffee Makers) goes beyond Rodriguez. Radamel Falcao, who has enjoyed a prosp erous European career, is a proven forward; Juan Cuadrado serves with Juventus; and Yerry Mina (Barcelona) and Davinson Sanchez (Tottenham) form a young, athletic central defense.
Senegal is making its first appearance since reaching the 2002 quarterfinals and, with almost the entire squad plying its trade in top European countries, the Lions of Teranga could very well claim a round-of-16 berth.
Liverpool's Sadio Mane leads a high-powered attack and Kalidou Koulibaly brings four years of starting experience on Napoli's back line.
Japan has appeared at the World Cup each time since its 1998 debut, having alternated group failures with round-of-16 slots the previous five tournaments. There isn't much optimism this time after a series of disappointing results and the March firing of coach Vahid Halilhodzic. Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Makoto Hasebe will need to apply their vast European club experience.
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