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FIFA World Cup 2018: In Group H, it is a battle of the outsiders

Published: 09th June 2018 05:30 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th June 2018 11:05 AM   |  A+A-

Robert Lewandowski (File Photo | AFP)

Express News Service

No title contenders here. None of these teams came even close to being one in the last few editions. But all have the experience of being in the knockouts. Can they better those records, checks out TN Vimal Sankar

Poland

  • Nickname: Or?y (The Eagles)

  • Coach: Adam Nawalka

  • World ranking: 8

  • Previous appearances: 6

  • Best: Third in 1974 & 1982

  • Base: Sochi

  • Odds: 50

The current squad is nowhere close to the golden era of 1970s and 1980s. With players like Grzegorz Lato and Zbigniew Boniek, they beat favourites like Brazil and Argentina back then. But they are coming back to the World Cup after a 12 years and will be hoping to make a mark again. Performance at Euro 2016 — where they went down to eventual champions Portugal in the quarterfinals — was an indication of things to expect from the eastern Europeans.

While they topped Group E on their way to Russia, their passage did have some roadblocks. The worst of it came in September, when they lost 4-0 to Denmark — the country's worst defeat in a competitive game for 15 years. That they conceded 14 goals during qualifying — the most by any team who finished in the top two in a European group — shows that there are areas that need to be addressed. Coach Adam Nawalka, however, has played a crucial role in the team's progress. When he took over from Waldemar Fornalik in 2013, Poland were 69th in FIFA rankings. Now they are ranked eighth. Not bad for transformation.

Key player: Robert Lewandowski (striker)

If there is one man to watch out for in the Polish team, it has to be him. The start striker banged in 16 goals in 10 games — a European qualifying record. In his prime now, the Bayern Munich man is a predator and can trouble the best of defenders.

Colombia

  • Coach: Jose Pekerman (Argentina)

  • Nick Names: Los Cafeteros (The Coffee Growers)

  • World ranking: 16

  • Previous appearances: 5

  • Best: Quarterfinals in 2014

  • Base: Kazan

  • Odds: 40

Surprise package in 2014. When James Rodriguez smashed that chested volley to the top of the net against Uruguay at the Maracana, a new star was born. It earned him a ticket to Real Madrid. However, he failed to live up to expectations in Spain and moved to Germany. Like him, his country also has struggled since the last World Cup.

They finished fourth in the CONMEBOL standings for Russia 2018 and were not sure of qualification till the final day, when they drew 1-1 against Peru. The South Americans have always been flamboyant and boasted characters like Carlos Valderrama and Rene Higuita. There were scarier times too, when Andres Escobar was murdered after scoring an own goal that eliminated Colombia in the 1994 World Cup. It remains to be seen if there is a new star this year. The good news is the return of Radamel Falcao - who was one of the best strikers in the world a few years back. A bad patch and injury forced him out of Brazil, but the 32-year-old has been in good form for his club Monaco this year. Though he is nowhere close to his best, the veteran's experience will be a boost, especially in the dressing room.

Colombia star midfielder James Rodriguez (File | AP)

Key player: James Rodrigues (forward)

Though he had a slow start at Bayern Munich, the 26-year-old is showing signs of improvement. Found his form after Jupp Heynckes replaced Carlo Ancelotti and scored 6 goals to go with 10 assists in 19 games as Bayern sealed the Bundesliga.

Senegal

  • Nickname: Les Lions de la Teranga (Lions of Teranga)

  • Coach: Aliou Cisse

  • World ranking: 27

  • Previous appearances: 1

  • Best: Quarterfinal in 2002

  • Base: Kaluga

  • Odds: 200

Only the second time that they are in the World Cup. El-Hadji Diouf, Salif Diao and Khalilou Fadiga were the stars, the first time they appeared in the tournament in 2002 . To beat the defending champions on your first game at the World Cup is some way to announce arrival at the big stage and that is exactly what they did. Though the French missed the talismanic Zinedine Zidane, it remains one of the biggest shocks in the history of the tournament. While France finished at the bottom and were knocked out, the men from the west coast of Africa went on till the quarterfinals. For Russia 2018, they topped the African Group D during qualification, but it was marred by controversies. In November 2016, after losing 2-1 to South Africa, Senegal submitted a protest to FIFA over the officiating and a dubious penalty call by Ghanaian ref Joseph Lamptey. The official was found guilty and banned for life. A replay in November saw Senegal win 2-0 to secure qualification with a game to spare. They have a core set of players from English clubs headed by Liverpool's Sadio Mane.

Senegal striker Sadio Mane (File | AP)

Key player: Sadio Mane (forward)

Liverpool's electrifying winger was key as the Reds reached the Champions League final. Though his efforts were sometimes overshadowed by the sensational Mohamed Salah, Mane has the pace and trickery to cause problems at the back for any opposition.

Japan

  • Nickname: Samurai Blue

  • Coach: Akira Nishino

  • World ranking: 61

  • Previous appearances: 5

  • Best finish: 2nd round in 2002 & 2010

  • Base: Kazan

  • Odds: 300

Introduced themselves on the big stage in 1998 and have played every edition since. It was a big year for them in 2002. While co-hosts South Korea reached the semifinals, Japan racked up seven points in the group stage before going out to Turkey in the round of 16. If Germany four years later was a disaster, Japan did better in South Africa thanks to Keisuke Honda. He was sensational from the midfield and his exploits had pundits terming him the Japanese Maradona. But it was disappointment again in Brazil, as they finished bottom of their group. This year, coach Akira Nishino had just about two months to prepare the team after taking over from Vahid Halilhodzic. The Bosnian had dropped key players Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki and by the time it was April, the Samurai Blue had won only three of their last 10 games. Fearing a repeat of 2014, Halilhodzic — who led Algeria to the second round at the 2014 World Cup — was given the boot, although he secured qualification for Russia with a game to spare. His idea of taking advantage of the free-flowing system of the Japanese backfired.

Key player: Shinji Okazaki (forward)

Was crucial when Leicester City won the Premier League in 2016. Japan's biggest star with Kagawa and Honda, the forward is six goals short of becoming the country's second highest scorer, although at 31 he is way behind top-scorer Kunishige Kamamoto on 80.



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