Reports & Previews

2018 World Cup Group H preview

Group H should be a tightly-contested affair in the 2018 World Cup, with no clear favourite amongst Colombia, Japan, Poland and Senegal.

The Poles have the best finals pedigree of the four teams, having finished third on two occasions - in 1974 and 1982. They have featured at the global showpiece seven times, but last qualified for the 2006 edition, where they failed to get past the group stages.

Robert Lewandowski is the star man in Adam Nawalka's side, having earned a reputation as one of Europe's top strikers during his time in Germany. The 29-year-old spearheaded Bayern Munich's title charge this past season with 29 goals in 30 Bundesliga appearances.

Lewandowski is also his country's top scorer with 53 goals - 16 of those came during the qualifying campaign as Poland topped their group. Russia 2018 will likely be his last chance to shine on the world's biggest stage.

The Samurai Blue are making their fifth successive appearance in the finals, having previously been absent since the tournament's inception in 1930.

Japan were knocked out of the group stages in 1998, 2006 and 2014, while they reached the round of 16 as co-hosts in 2002 and again in 2010. They have a good chance of at least going that far in Russia.

The Japan Football Association made the surprise decision to replace Vahid Halilhodzic with Akira Nishino at the helm in April, after the Bosnian coach had guided the island nation to the top of their group in the qualifiers, with just two defeats along the way.

Halilhodzic's big call to drop Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda and Shinji Okazaki from his squad might have played a part, and the star trio have since been recalled by Nishino. Kagawa will provide the creative spark from midfield to bring fellow experienced campaigners Honda and Okazaki into play up front.

Meanwhile, Los Cafeteros are playing in back-to-back World Cups for the first time since 1998, and their sixth appearance overall. They surprised many by reaching the quarter-finals at Brazil 2014, where they bowed out to the tournament hosts.

It was their best showing on the world's biggest stage and Jose Pekerman's side will be looking to James Rodriguez once more for inspiration, after the 26-year-old playmaker won the Golden Boot four years ago with six goals.

James' exploits landed him a move to Real Madrid, where he has won La Liga and two UEFA Champions League titles. The Colombian was loaned out to Bayern Munich for the 2017/18 season after struggling for regular game time at the Santiago Bernabeu, and he regained his best form to help the Bavarians clinch another Bundesliga crown.

The Lions of Teranga will feature in the finals for only the second time, having stunned the world when they reached the quarter-finals as debutants in 2002.

Their football has since been on a decline, but Aliou Cisse is looking to change all that after his team qualified for the tournament with an unbeaten record in their group.

Cisse's side also made it to the last eight of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, where they lost to eventual champions Cameroon on penalties.

The West Africans have a few household names in their squad, with Sadio Mane the most recognisable. The Liverpool winger helped his club reach the Champions League final, but they couldn't prevent Real from winning a third successive title.

Mane enjoyed a fine season with the Reds, registering 20 goals and eight assists in 40 appearances across all competitions.