Group H Round-Up: World Cup 2018
Group H is one of the most open and intriguing of the 2018 World Cup, featuring four teams from four different continents and no overwhelming favourite to finish top. More than any other section, this is the one where it would not be a total shock if any side either ended first or fourth.
Having said that, Poland (2.55) deserve their tag as favourites to finish at the summit of the standings. The European nation have been arranging their friendlies in such a way as to boost their position in the FIFA rankings, which in turn earned them a place among the top seeds for the group stage draw.
This is a gifted side who could be potential dark horses this summer, and in Robert Lewandowski they possess arguably the world’s foremost centre-forward. There is talent elsewhere, too, from Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny between the sticks and the rugged Kamil Glik in the centre of defence, to Napoli creator Piotr Zielinski in midfield and his club team-mate Arek Milik just behind Lewandowski up top.
The Poles finished third at the 1974 and 1982 editions of the World Cup and will be dreaming of another semi-final appearance in Russia this year, although a potential last-16 meeting with either Belgium or England will be far from straightforward.
Senegal (5.60) were one of the stories of the 2002 World Cup, stunning holders France in the opening game of the tournament and going on to reach the last eight for the first time – and in turn equalling Africa’s best ever placing alongside Cameroon (1990) and, subsequently, Ghana (2010).
Their failure to qualify for 2006, 2010 and 2014 has been put right this time around, and there is hope that the Lions of Teranga can make an impression again this summer. Senegal were pre-tournament favourites ahead of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, but they never really hit their stride and were knocked out by Cameroon in the first knockout round.
This, however, is a team with balance and quality – Sadio Mane is an exhilarating attacker, Kalidou Koulibaly a tremendous defender and Idrissa Gueye an all-action midfielder – and, given the favourable odds on offer, it could be worth backing them to run out as Group H winners.
Senegal to top a tough group
Like I said, this group can swing in all kinds of directions, but I would bet on Senegal to finish first in the group and Japan (9.00) last. Even though they have become World Cup regulars in recent times, with 2018 set to be their sixth appearance in a row.
Their preparation for this tournament has been far from ideal, though – after some unconvincing showings throughout the qualification campaign, manager Vahid Halilhodzic was replaced by Akira Nishino in April – and a second consecutive group stage exit could be on the cards for the 2002 co-hosts.
Colombia (23.00) caught the eye at the last World Cup in Brazil, playing some fantastic football on route to a narrow defeat by the hosts in the quarter-finals. Things have not been plain sailing for Jose Pekerman’s charges in the four years since, but the return to form of James Rodriguez and fitness of Radamel Falcao has raised optimism ahead of this summer.
Los Cafeteros can still be disjointed at times, though, and it remains to be seen which of the two aforementioned stars Pekerman will look to build his side around. Colombia will expect to advance to the last 16, but they could be surprise group stage casualties.
By Greg Lea
After many years of sports writing with emphasis on football, including a stint at Sky Sports, Greg is here to help you with betting tips. Follow him on Twitter @greglea to get the latest updates before placing your bets.