Amazingly this group boasts two teams who made it to the Quarter Finals of the 2002 World Cup (Japan and Senegal), one team who made it to the quarter-final of the 2014 World Cup (Colombia) and another team who have finished 3rd in the World Cup twice. So, a group of teams with quite a good pedigree and history as far as the FIFA World Cup is concerned. This group is again not that easy to call but you would feel that traditional powers Colombia and Poland may be a bit too strong for the competition in this group. But don’t write Senegal and Sadio Mane off, as they could also challenge strongly for a place in the next stage. Japan, though, is looking quite weak and looks quite weak that some of their earlier teams in previous editions.
Since the mid-1980s, the national team has been a symbol fighting the country’s negative reputation. This has made the sport popular and made the national team a sign of nationalism, pride, and passion for many Colombians worldwide. Colombia is known for having a passionate fan base. After a 16-year-long wait, in 2014 Colombia finally returned to the World Cup, where they were able to advance to the quarter-finals, the furthest Colombia has ever made it in a World Cup. Colombia’s midfielder James Rodríguez won two awards, the Golden Boot for most goals (6) and Best Goal of the Tournament. This year they are not a surprise element anymore with some very good players and a hopeful nation waiting for another good run in the tournament.
History- Quarterfinalists in 2014.
Qualification Form- Fourth in the South American section behind Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina.
Watch out for: Davinson Sanchez- From one of the most promising young defenders at Ajax to one of the best defenders in the world at Tottenham, Davinson Sanchez has already proved that he is capable of handling some of the best-attacking players in the world. Watch out for this talented youngster marshaling his defense at Russia.
Japanese football has gone downhill since their amazing run at the 2002 World Cup. Though they did manage to qualify for all the editions in between, much more was expected from a team that was once the best national team in Asia. Japan now play a more counter-attacking style of football as opposed to their possession style from previous years meaning the role of creative midfielder like Shinji Kagawa is extremely limited. They will be tough to beat but perhaps, unfortunately, will eventually be beaten.
History- Round of 16 twice.
Qualification Form- Won 6, drew 2 lost 2.
Watch out for: Maya Yoshida- In a more counter-attacking system of play, central defender Maya Yoshida, who plays in the EPL with Southampton becomes a key player for them. The team will be heavily dependant on his ability to win the ball back and initiate counter-attacks.
Poland looked a strong team at the Euro 2016 reaching the Quarterfinals of the tournament on the back of a strong defense and an exciting attack spearheaded by the fantastic Robert Lewandowski. The captain of his side, he hit a record-breaking 16 goals in the qualifying campaign and his leadership was crucial as Poland returned to the biggest stage after a 12-year absence. But other players also contributed to what was a strong performance in qualification. Poland is expected to go through this group quite easily.
History- 3rd place, twice.
Qualification Form- Won 8, drew 1 lost 1.
Watch out for: Robert Lewandowski- The man needs little introduction. One of the most prolific finishers of the game, he is dead inside the box and rarely misses any chance to score a goal. Could well rack up some in the group stage.
This will be Senegal’s second World Cup finals after Aliou Cissé, who was the captain of the 2002 side under the late Bruno Metsu, guided his team through a difficult qualification group containing Burkina Faso, South Africa, and Cape Verde. A line-up boasting of some exciting attacking talents- Keita Balde of Monaco and Sadio Mane of Liverpool, Senegal will be an exciting team to watch. When they do need to slow down a play a more defensive minded game, Diafra Sakho of West Ham comes and provides a much-needed stability in defense. Their World Cup campaign will be heavily dependant on the form of Sadio Mane and how much support he receives from his fellow players.
History- Quarterfinalists in 2002.
Qualification Form- Won 4, drew 2, lost 0.
Watch out for: Sadio Mane- The Liverpool forward had an excellent start to the season with Liverpool before an unfortunate injury stuttered the progress. He is back to his best and looked sharp in the Champions League Final against Real Madrid, scoring the only goal of the match for Liverpool. His quick feet, dribbling skills and incisive runs into the box can unsettle the best of defenders. An excellent player to watch.