FIFA rank: 8
Poland comes into the tournament as the lowest ranked pot 1 team, leading many to doubt their place among the soccer elites. They’re led by aging stars who are giving this their last ride. That being said, they still have a deadly attack with world-class strikers who’ve shined on the world’s biggest stages. They’ll be challenged here for sure, but they likely have the pieces to advance.
Player to watch: All eyes are on Robert Lewandowski. Gone are the days where he put together unbelievable performances like the 5-goals-9-minutes game a few years ago. He’s rumored to be leaving top Euro soccer soon, and he’s probably in his last World Cup. He can definitely carry Poland, but they’ll need him to play out of his mind.
FIFA rank: 16
Columbia were the darlings of the 2014 World Cup but no one is underestimating them this time. They’re led by ace goalie David Ospina, who is finally healthy again, and gets to perform at his high ceiling. They’re noted for their outstanding midfield play with goals coming from a large amount of their positions. If they get on a roll again, they’ll be tough to stop.
Player to watch: James Rodriguez stole the show in Brazil and he’s only continued to grow his legend in the interim. He’s played for both Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, and although his goal-scoring has tapered off a bit, his relentlessness and will to push the ball toward the goal hasn’t wavered. He’s got the skill and experience to lead this Columbia team where it wants to go.
FIFA rank: 27
Don’t let the rank fool you, this Senegal team is one of the more exciting to enter the World Cup this year. While their qualification for the tournament was controversial, no one can argue that they aren’t skilled enough to play with the big boys. They’ve got a fantastic young core of players playing with clubs all over Europe’s top leagues, and could legitimately win the group with some of their better play.
Player to watch: SADIOOOOO! Sadio Mane is one of the most skilled players in the world, helping lead Liverpool out of nowhere all the way to the Champions League Finals. He’s already a contestant for the Golden Boot, and if he plays even close to his recent form, soccer fans are in for a treat.
FIFA rank: 61
Being put in arguably the most wide open group is a double-edged sword for Japan. On one hand, it gives them the best chance of advancing, albeit still a small one, and on the other hand, Japan will likely be used as the points bank for the other knockout round hopefuls to beat up on. They’re strongest on defense so expect them to mainly rely on their counterattack.
Player to watch: Eiji Kawashima Has made a name for himself in Ligue 1, and has become one of the de facto leaders of this team. He kept 4 clean sheets out of 10 matches in qualifying, and he’ll need to keep up his high level of play for Japan to have any shot at competitiveness.
Columbia vs Japan: Tuesday, June 19th, 8am
Score: Columbia 3-1 Japan
Poland vs Senegal: Tuesday, June 19th, 11am
Score: Poland 2-2 Senegal.
Japan vs Senegal: Sunday, June 24th, 11am
Score: Japan 1-2 Senegal.
Poland vs Columbia: Sunday, June 24th, 2pm
Score: Poland 3-2 Columbia.
Senegal vs Columbia: Thursday, June 28th, 2pm
Score: Senegal 2-1 Columbia.
Poland vs Japan: Thursday, June 28th, 2pm
Score: Poland 2-0 Japan.
- Poland, 7 pts, +3
- Senegal, 7 pts, +2
- Columbia, 3 pts, +0
- Japan, 0 pts, -5