Soccer

Previews for all World Cup groups- Group H

Group H is loaded with attacking talent.

Welcome to What The Sports’ FIFA World Cup Previews! It starts today! *omits manly squeal.* Like many normal humans, I cannot wait for the greatest tournament ever to start. We’ve been doing a preview for every group here, and it’s time for the final take.

Last and admittedly least is Group H. The cohort consists of Poland, Senegal, Colombia and Japan. Consider that three potentially devastating attacks and a group of nice lads. Ultimately, it’s unlikely that any of the four win the whole thing, but whoever makes it through could be a tough out. Thus, a disappointing group could consist of some pesky little teams that will push the top dogs to the edge.

Poland

Not that good, you say? Oh contraire. The ever-questionable FIFA rankings currently have the Poles as the eighth best team in the world. Although these rankings are made by perhaps the most corrupt sporting body in the world, it’s got to count for something. And it does. While not too many names jump out, Poland are deep and they play good football.

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Who to watch

Arkadiusz Milik

I still haven’t quite figured out how to properly pronounce his name. Is it Milk? Is it Mil-ick? Either way, the Napoli forward is the ultimate defenses-may-forget-to-mark-him-because-of-that-other-guy player. You’ll be forgiven if you know nothing about Poland beyond Robert Lewandowski. That’s because in terms of star power, there isn’t much to know. Milik has been quietly very good for Napoli, scoring six in only 17 appearances in an injury limited season. When healthy, he’s deadly.  

They win the group if…

Well, they really should. In fact, no other team poses a real threat in a weak group. For lack of better options, the defense should be the key. With the attacking prowess in this group (see Mane, Sadio and Rodriguez, James), the team that defends best could well come out on top. Their back three absolutely has to hold up.

Most likely to be meme’d

Artur Jedrzejczyk. Good luck pronouncing his name. Reminds me of this. Phonetics aside, he is the star of Poland’s Youtube channel and quite possibly one of the scariest looking men ever. To top that off, he’s not very good. Where there’s Jedrzejczyk, there’s banter.

Senegal

Sometimes there are teams that aren’t very good in real life but are just a joy on FIFA. Meet Senegal, the official video game team of the FIFA World Cup. They’re fast, skilled and just a nightmare to mark. There’s one problem. Their manager, Aliou Cissé, hasn’t figured that out yet. Mane, M’Baye Niang, and Keita Baldé could run rampant. Kalidou Koulibaly could anchor a great defense. This team, with a more offensive-minded coach, they could go far. However, they play boring. They drew with Uzbekistan. Enough said.

Who to watch

Sadio Mane

*cue Liverpool bias.* Criticized at the start of the season, Mane came into his own for the last third of the campaign. He was deadly on the left wing and his runs through the center allowed him to reach the 20 goal mark for the second time in his career. He is the best African left winger in the world. If he stays true to his form, Senegal will be lethal.

They win the group if…

They play like they want to win games. Seriously, managers like Cissé are the reason Americans are put to sleep by the beautiful game. If you’re reading this, Aliou (and I know you are), please play FIFA, look at the pace in your front line, adjust the user sliders, beat everyone, and then apply that to your squad in real life. You have five days to get it done.

Most likely to be meme’d

Mane again. I love Sadio with all my heart, but the man needs to learn how to celebrate. Let’s be honest, as a goalscoring treat, you need a signature celebration. The Messi point, the douchey Ronaldo thing, Robinho’s heel clicks and Griezmann’s ridiculous dancing are all classics. Mane just copies Roberto Firmino. Badly.

Columbia

They’re back! 2014’s trendy pick that didn’t work out are ready to probably do the same! The Colombians come into the tournament with largely the same group as the one that went to the quarterfinals four years ago. So, the same squad, four years on, more experienced. Deadly right? Not so fast. They’re in a flux tactically, unsure what to do with an aging Falcao up front. If they can keep it together, they’ll overpower a lot of teams.

Key Player

James Rodriguez

Good World Cups do not a great player maketh, a wise man once said. James pretty much took that saying and kicked it into the dirt. He was the sweetheart of 2014 for his stunner of a goal, and earned a move to Real Madrid in the process. He thrived there, before falling out of favor under Zinedine Zidane. He’s the creative force in the team, and now has perfectly molded hair to boot.

They win the group if

They figure out the goalie situation. David Ospina’s bottom is nice and warm after a nothing season at Arsenal. Still, he’s trusted as Colombia’s No. 1, and looked admittedly shaky in qualifiers. If he stops playing like his name is Loris Karius (self roast!), this team will look a lot steadier at the back.

Most likely to be meme’d

There’s plenty of potential for jokes in poor taste here, but the real laughing stock is Juan Cuadrado. Fantastically skilled, as well as maddeningly inconsistent, his legacy shall be that of a victim of possibly the worst red card ever. I hate you, Sergio Ramos (self plug!)

Japan

*struggles to find something intelligent to say* Well… they have some aging talent up front? The Japanese come into the tournament as the 60th ranked team in the world, and recently switched managers. Not necessarily the best combination in order to be a World Cup winning squad.

Key Player

Keisuke Honda

A hero of Japanese football, Honda has 95 caps and 36 goals under his belt. A recent transfer to the Mexican League revived his declining career. He’s undoubtedly lost a step, but his vision and exquisite left foot can still do a lot of damage. This was good fun:

They win the group if…

The front three link up. A trio of Honda, Shinji Okazaki (legend of scrappy goals) and Shinji Kagawa should offer a lot of movement and clinical finishing. Recently appointed Akira Nishino has tried to implement an offensive minded system with Kagawa as a playmaker. If that works out, goals will come. *looks at defense* Yeah, they need to score.

Most likely to be meme’d

The kits. Imagine this commercial slogan “Making weird polka dot things look sexy since 2018.” Not sure what they were thinking here, apparently there’s some samurai imagery. Either way, better luck next time, Adidas.

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