2018 World Cup: Group H Preview


 

Most Groups in this year’s World Cup boast a favorite to win the title. Spain is favored in Group B. In Group C’s powerhouse is France while Group E and Group D are led by the two most historically significant South American nations at the World Cup:  Group E’s top team is Brazil and Group D’s top team is Argentina.

Even Group F and Group G figure to be dominated by Germany and Belgium respectively. England, another World Cup favorite, ended up in Group G. Group A? Uruguay looks tough to beat there, which brings me to my point:  most Groups in this year’s World Cup have a clear cut favorite except for one. That Group, Group H, is the one I preview in his blog.

Will Colombia build upon it’s surprising 2014 World Cup performance? Or, will Poland take the top spot in Group H away from Colombia?

Check out my final 2018 World Cup Group preview.

2018 World Cup: Group H Preview

Colombia                        +120

During World Cup Qualifying, Colombia had trouble versus Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay. They didn’t win any games against Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay. They also lost both their games versus the Argentinians. But, Colombia easily handled Ecuador, who was undefeated at the time, as well as tying Peru on the final day of qualifying.

On paper, Colombia appears set to challenge for the World Cup Championship. Led by one of the top players in the world, James Rodriguez, the Colombians boast talent across the board. Rodriguez had a fantastic season at Bayern Munich. He scored 7 goals in 19 appearances. Rodriguez won the Golden Boot at the 2014 World Cup.

He won’t just score goals this World Cup, though. He’ll also pass the ball. One of the reasons is because in addition to having Rodriguez on the squad, the Colombians also boast a terrific striker in captain Radamel Falcao. Falcao scored 18 goals and passed for 4 assists this past season while playing for Monaco in Ligue 1.

Manager Jose Pekerman has been in charge since 2012.  He’s the manager that led Rodriguez, Falcao, and the rest of the Colombian side to the 2014 World Cup Quarterfinals.

Poland                             +175

Top 10 ranked Poland finished in first place in UEFA Group E World Cup Qualifying. They pulled off the first place victory by winning 8 of 10 matches against Denmark, Montenegro, Romania, Armenia, and Kazakhstan. Poland scored a total of 28 goals during World Cup Qualifying. The fact that Robert Lewandowski scored 16 of 28 goals tells you something.

Lewandowski, easily, is Poland’s best player. Some believe Lewandowski is the greatest Polish footballer ever. Since playing with Bayern Munich in 2014, Lweandowski has scored 106 goals in 126 appearances. He’s been one of the very best goal scorers in the world for one of the very best club teams in the world since 2014.

In addition to Lewandowksi, Poland also includes solid players like center back Kamil Glick, midfielder Grzegory Krychowiak, and defender Lukasz Piszcek. Poland also has a few young players that should help the team play well in Russia:  Piotr Zielinski and Karol Linetty. Manager Adam Nawalka has been in charge of Poland since 2013.

Senegal                            +500

Senegal won 4 of their 6 matches during World Cup Qualifying. They scored a total of 10 goals while taking 14 points. The key for Senegal will be the play of winger Sadio Mane. The Liverpool striker scored 10 goals in 11 matches in this year’s UEFA Champions League.

Japan                                +700

Japan won their group in Asian qualifying. The Japanese are led by star player Keisuke Honda. Honda scored 7 goals for Japan during qualifying. He scored 7 goals in 16 appearances for Puchaca in the Primera Division.

What Makes Colombia the Favorite to Win Group H?

Colombia is a favorite to win Group H mainly because they went all the way to the quarterfinals in the 2014 World Cup. The team that Colombia lost to in the quarterfinals, Brazil, is not only the greatest soccer nation in history, but also played in front of their countrymen and countrywomen. From a positive point-of-view, the Colombian’s losing 1 to 2 to Brazil made all the sense in the world. Neymar was on the pitch for the Brazilians that day. James Rodriguez held his own, but Brazil is a different squad with Neymar on the pitch.

The Colombians hope that with the 2014 experience underneath them, they can find a way to at least get back to the quarterfinals. Will that be the case? It’s difficult to look past James Rodriguez. He’s a seriously talented soccer player. Rodriguez has become more of a passer although he remains a strong attacking midfielder.

Rordiguez’s maturity should help him set up Falcao more efficiently than many believe. The knock against Colombia is that their midfield isn’t as strong as it could be. I’m not sure that will be the case. Although James most definitely will sneak up into a striking position, he’s likely to fall back in plenty of instances to set up Falcoa, and Cuadrado and Cadona on the wings.

James wants to be Colombia’s answer to Lionel Messi. If James can play efficiently while striking and passing, he can get close to the great Messi. Columbia’s defense is solid while their are few managers who know their players as well as Pekerman.

This is why Colombia is favored to win Group H:  two star players in Rodriguez and Falcao, a strong defense, and a manager that knows how to get the best from his players. Colombia sure looks strong to at least get to the Round of 16 in the 2018 World Cup.

Why Are Poland’s Odds Less than +200 to Win Group H?

There are several reasons why Poland is at less than +200 to win Group H:  FIFA ranks them tenth in the world, Adam Nawala knows how to get the most from his squad, and Robert Lewandowski is one of the greatest footballers to ever step onto the pitch.

But, the real reason to like Poland is due to their strong performance at the 2016 UEFA EURO. At the 2016 EURO, Poland lost Group D to Germany via a slight goal difference. Both Germany and Poland went 2 and 1 in the Group. In the Euro Round of 16, the Polish beat Switzerland 5 to 4 on penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie. In the quarterfinals, Poland lost to eventual winner Portugal 3 to 5 on penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie.

The fact that Poland lost on penalty kicks at the UEFA Euro 2016 Championship tells us that Poland can hang with some of the best teams in Europe. Poland also has a slight advantage over Colombia in Group H in the sense that they are much closer to Russia geographically than Colombia is.

How Will Senegal and Japan Perform in This Year’s World Cup?

Senegal can lean on Sadio Mane to get a few goals during Group play. A few goals against Japan could put Senegal into the mix for the runner up position in Group H. It’s difficult to see Senegal doing enough to get past either Colombia or Poland, though.

The problem with Senegal is that outside of Mane, the attack has tended to play poorly in international matches.  The midfield is pretty good. It will keep Senegal in most matches. However, any issues in the back line will lead to goals. That will lead to more pressure on Mane and Senegal’s attack.

The Japanese could be in some trouble. Mane is a top flight striker for one of the better tams in the English Premier League, Liverpool. Honda, Japan’s best player, doesn’t hit the pitch for a top class club team. Not only that, but Japan also changed managers about a month ago. That can’t work in their favor.

World Cup Group H Predictions

Because no real star team is present in Group H, deciding between Colombia and Poland is difficult. Both have excellent star players in Rodriguez at Colombia and Lewandowski at Poland. Both are managed by tacticians that have been there for a while. Both are strong in every phase of the game.

The one thing that leads me to Poland as my top pick, though, is their geographical location to Russia. That, and the young players that could bolster their veteran group makes them the team to win Group H. Colombia will finish second.

Winner:  Poland

Second Place:  Colombia