World Cup 2018: your guide to Group H

This looks to be one of the most even groups with all four teams laying claim to last 16 spots

James Rodriguez’s volley against Uruguay in the 2014 World Cup was a particular highlight. Photo: Felipe Dana - Pool/Getty Images

James Rodriguez’s volley against Uruguay in the 2014 World Cup was a particular highlight. Photo: Felipe Dana - Pool/Getty Images

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Colombia 40-1
Poland 50-1

Senegal 150-1
Japan 200-1

The contenders

Colombia lit up the tournament four years ago with James Rodriguez bursting onto the world stage and taking the mantle of top scorer. For Poland it’s a first appearance since 2006 and they will be determined to become the first Polish team since 1982 to reach the knockout stages while Senegal appear in just their second World Cup, 16 years on from their run to the quarter-finals in 2002. Japan are the unknown quantity having sacked their manager and installed a new one just three months ago.

How did they get here?

It went right down to the wire for Colombia and only a draw with Peru on the final day was enough to see them through in fourth place. Poland had no such problems as they booked their place in Russia very early on, largely thanks to Robert Lewandowski’s record-breaking 16 goals in qualifying. Senegal also comfortably qualified in the end but not without controversy after their game with South Africa was replayed on the evidence of match-fixing while Japan sealed their path with a win over Australia in the penultimate game.

World Cup pedigree

Colombia have a very chequered history with the World Cup given the fact that, in 1994, an own goal from captain Andres Escobar ultimately cost him his life at the hands of a drug cartel but four years ago it was very much the impressive football that was the focus. As mentioned, Poland have never really lived up to expectations in their two appearances since 1982 while Senegal stunned the world in their first ever World Cup 16 years ago when they beat France in their opening game and got to the quarter-finals. Japan have never gone beyond the second round with the most memorable occasion coming when they co-hosted the tournament in 2002.

The gaffers

Jose Pekerman was the man who led Colombia to the quarter-finals in 2014 and he remains in charge. Adam Nawalka has been in the hotseat at Poland for five years now and guided them to their first ever European Championship quarter-final in France two years ago while Senegal hero Allou Cisse - the man who captained them in 2002 - now sits in the hotseat for the African country. Despite guiding Japan to the finals, Vahid Halilhodzic was sacked in April and replaced by Akira Nishino.

What to watch out for

James Rodriguez was the star for Colombia four years ago and, although he stalled somewhat at Real Madrid, he re-found some of his best for at Bayern Munich in the season just gone. Goalscoring machine Robert Lewandowski netted 46 goals in all competitions for Bayern last season and is key to Poland’s hopes while Sadio Mane holds a similar mantle for Senegal.

The verdict

This is one of the hardest groups to call with little to choose between Poland and Colombia for top spot while Senegal and Japan will be confident that they can knock one of the two favourites aside and advance to the second round.

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