Group H is also interesting given the singular reliance on talismanic figures leading their nations. Robert Lewandowski (Poland), Sadio Mane (Senegal), James Rodriguez (Colombia), and Shinji Kagawa (Japan) will should huge responsibility in navigating their nations out of a wide-open group.
What is particularly deflating for all four nations is that qualification should mean playing either Belgium or England, both of which will be heavy favourites to reach the quarter-finals. With this in mind, what is perhaps most important to look out for during the Group H matches – for further down the line - is which is the most impressive counter-attacking side, since Belgium struggle to defend and England tend to be brittle in knockout matches.
Here is a look at all four nations:
Poland latest odds
There is growing concern in Poland that Adam Nawalka’s side have passed their peak; few new faces joined the camp during qualifying, meaning the Poles are largely unchanged since their penalty shootout defeat to Portugal in the quarter-finals of Euro 2016.
There is clearly quality in the Poland first 11 (their spine of Wojciech Szczesny, Kamil Glik, Grzegorz Krychowiak, and Robert Lewandowski speaks for itself) but their defensive weakness could cost them dearly in Russia.
An awful lot rests on Lewandowski’s performances. The Bayern Munich striker has scored 28 goals in 28 Bundesliga games at the time of writing
Poland conceded 14 goals in qualifying, more than any other group winners, which including a damaging 4-0 defeat to Denmark last September – the nation’s worst competitive defeat in 15 years. Arguably the biggest reason for this leaky defence is Nawalka’s determination to play possession football, something that suits the likes of Kamil Grosicki and Piotr Zielinski but isn’t ideal when Belgium or England are just around the corner.
An awful lot rests on Lewandowski’s performances. The Bayern Munich striker has scored 28 goals in 28 Bundesliga games at the time of writing and continues to perform well in the Champions League, but there is nothing like the same creativity behind him in a Poland shirt.
Senegal latest odds
Senegal have a great opportunity to go further than any other African nation at the 2018 World Cup thanks to their tactical approach being relatively novel on the international stage.
This is an aggressive and powerful collection of players who will absorb pressure and look for the sucker punch on the counter; Sadio Mane, Monaco’s Keita Balde, and Torino’s M’Baye Niang make for a formidable, quick attack at the top of Aliou Cisse’s 4-3-3 formation.
Senegal’s secret weapon is set-pieces, from which their height and strength is a major threat.
Cisse, who captained Senegal during their only previous World Cup appearance in 2002 (which included a famous opening match 1-0 win against France and a run to the quarter-finals) also boasts a powerful midfield that could certainly outmuscle the likes of Poland and Colombia. Everton’s Idrissa Gueye is a certain starter, while Stoke City’s Badou N’Diaye has emerged as a top-level defensive midfielder during his half-season in the Premier League.
Senegal’s secret weapon is set-pieces, from which their height and strength is a major threat. Kalidou Koulibaly’s towering header in the dying moments of Napoli’s win at Juventus this season will never be forgotten in Naples. It was a goal that also sent a warning shot to Senegal’s upcoming opponents in the World Cup.
Colombia latest odds
Having limped across the line with three points from their final four in qualifying, Colombia don’t look unlikely to emulate their success in 2014, where they reached the quarter-finals and rattled Brazil.
It’s an ageing squad, too, with stars Radamel Falcao, Carlos Bacca, Cristian Zapata, and Carlos Sanchez all in their 30s. Colombia’s hopes for a better World Cup than their qualifying campaign would suggest rests on Tottenham Hotspur’s Davinson Sanchez organising the defence and James Rodriguez carrying his club form to international level.
A 3-2 victory away against France in March has certainly increased optimism, and highlighted how coach, Jose Pekerman, can get the most out of his players; absorb pressure in a tight 4-2-3-1 and burst forward with rapid counter-attacks. The emergence of Jose Izquierdo at Brighton gives them serious pace on the flanks, which could help their cause against either England or Belgium in the next round, should they get that far.
Colombia may benefit from playing Japan first, a nation ranked 44 places below them by Fifa. Three early points on the board would set them up nicely ahead of the tougher challenge against Senegal and Poland, the latter playing a possession style that could see them get caught by James and company.
Japan latest odds
Vahid Halilhodzic’s time as Japan manager has not been without controversy.
His abandonment of their traditional possession football is unpopular in Japan, particularly because both Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa briefly lost their starting spots as a consequence. Although both are expected to feature regularly this summer, along with Leicester City’s Shinji Okazaki, who was also ousted for a while, Halilhodzic is still playing counter-attacking football.
It isn’t exactly working. Defeats to the UAE and Saudi Arabia in qualifying drew heavy criticism and Japan are on a run of two wins from their previous eight matches, which includes a 4-1 defeat to lowly South Korea. Constant changes to the starting 11 and ongoing defensive errors – Maya Yoshida’s poor season at Southampton makes Japan even more vulnerable than usual – means it is unlikely Halilhodzic’s team will get out of Group H.
Group H may well be the one that many soccer fans skip over when picking the must watch games of the tournament in Russia, but bettors may see it as offering the greatest value. The absence of big stars may leave punters unsure of who to back, but this quartet could benefit from the lack of expectation. Wherever you find value in World Cup Group G bitcoin betting there are a huge range of markets available at Cloudbet; take advantage of our great value odds, high limits and the benefits of betting on the World Cup with bitcoin.
After the first games
Despite the new technology in the game nothing, it seems, can influence the reactions of a player desperate to keep his side in the World Cup. Carlos Sanchez either hadn't realised that FIFA abandoned the golden goal rule or that this was a first group game. Whatever was going through his mind when he demonstrated considerable volleyball skill to deny Shinji Kagawa. A red card and converted penalty swiftly followed. Colombia never really recovered, the major surprise was that Japan got another and so pulled off an historic win. The pace of Senegal will pose a threat to any team. As Poland found out. Lewandowski was kept quiet, as was Sadio Mane. But it was the quick thinking of Senegal forward, M'Baye Niang to intercept a backpass and get the winner that proved the difference. Want to know how the other rule changes have affected the world cup? Read our World Cup overview.