The failures of traditional powerhouses Italy and the Netherlands in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup means that there is no apparent “group of death". However, the sheer competitiveness of the teams in Group H, comprising Colombia, Senegal, Poland, and Japan, makes this group the best contender for the title.

Colombia, the quarter-finalists in Brazil four years ago, appear the strongest of the lot and will fancy their chances of winning the group. James Rodriguez, the golden boot winner from 2014, will be the creative fulcrum of the side dictating attack in his No. 10 role.

The vastly-experienced Jose Perkerman, in his sixth year at the helm of Colombia, will favour centre-forward Radamel Falcao who will be looking to capitalise on Rodriguez’s through balls. Pekerman has quality off the bench as well with strikers Carlos Bacca and Luis Muriel to call upon.

Mateus Uribe and Juan Cuadrado will likely flank Rodriguez in Perkerman’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, with Abel Aguilar and Carlos Sanchez sitting in front of the backline. Colombia have a strong central defence, which will be marshalled by Tottenham Hotspur’s Davinson Sanchez and AC Milan’s Cristian Zapata.

Barcelona’s Yerry Mina is likely to be given a bench role and David Ospina will don the No. 1 shirt. Colombia will expect a lot of joy from the right with winger Cuadrado and PSV Eindhoven’s full-back Santiago Arias patrolling that side of the pitch.

Senegal will be making only their second appearance at a World Cup after a historic debut in 2002 when they caused a major upset by defeating the then reigning champion France in the opening game.

Sadio Mane will look to inspire Senegal to a repeat of their 2002 World Cup campaign. Photo: AFP
Sadio Mane will look to inspire Senegal to a repeat of their 2002 World Cup campaign. Photo: AFP

They went all the way to the quarter-finals in their debut campaign and will fancy their chances of achieving something similar in Russia, with quality personnel in all areas of the pitch. Liverpool’s Sadio Mane is the team’s brightest star. There is quality in forward positions with the likes of Keita Balde, Moussa Sow, Diafra Sakho, and M’Baye Niang to choose from.

In the 4-3-3 combination of manager Aliou Cisse, captain Cheikhou Kouyate sits at the base of the midfield, flanked by Idrissa Gueye, and one of Cheikh N’Doye and Badou Ndiaye. In defence, Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly is an imposing presence and is likely to be paired with either Salif Sane or Kara.

In Senegal’s last World Cup campaign, Cisse was the captain, and now as a manager, he will be hoping to guide the current generation to the same heights that his batch reached 16 years ago.

The Lions of Teranga will open their campaign against the group’s highest ranked team Poland. The eastern Europeans qualified with ease topping their group as Robert Lewandowski finished with 16 goals, the highest in European qualifying. He will remain the biggest threat for the opposition.

However, he is not the only proven scorer in the Polish ranks. Napoli frontman Arkadisuz Milik is another potent threat, but he will have to make do with an understudy role to captain Lewandowski.

Robert Lewandowski will be eager to take his goalscoring form from qualifying to Russia. Photo: AFP
Robert Lewandowski will be eager to take his goalscoring form from qualifying to Russia. Photo: AFP

Behind him, Piotr Zielinski will play the creator role with support on the flanks from Jakub Błaszczykowski and Kamil Grosicki in the 4-2-3-1 system of manager Adam Nawalka. Centre-back Kamil Glik and right-back Lukasz Piszczek are established names in defence whilst Juventus custodian Wojciech Szczesny will be in goal.

The last time Poland reached the round of 16 was way back in 1982. They have the team to better that performance but it will all depend on their ability to take chances. The Poles suffered due to their profligacy in the 2016 Euros and cannot repeat the same mistakes in Russia if they are to go further than the group stage.

Japan made a surprising decision of sacking manager Vahid Halilhodzic just two months before the World Cup and gave the job to Akira Nishino, who is vastly experienced in the Japanese league but hasn’t held a managerial role elsewhere.

Leicester City striker Shinji Okazaki and Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa are the team’s two biggest names. However, they also have quality midfielders in Gaku Shibasaki and Takashi Inui, who both enjoyed successful seasons in the Spanish league; the latter earning himself a move to Real Betis this summer.

Maya Yoshida and Yuto Nagatomo bring experience aplenty in defence.

Japan will be no pushovers in the group and will be in with a chance of making the knockout with two good results.

With four teams from separate continents, there will be differing football styles on view. From South American finesse to African flair and from European pragmatism to Asian conservatism, Group H has a lot to look forward to. It promises to be an enticing section where no result can be taken for granted.

For analysis of the other 2018 FIFA World Cup groups, click here.

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