A quick look at the countries in Group H of the soccer World Cup immediately shows it is likely to be one of the closest in the competition. It’s perhaps not quite as competitive as Group D, but it’s definitely a tough one to predict.
Colombia and Poland are considered as favorites to progress, but both Senegal and Japan will fancy their chances of making it through. They have solid reasons to back that up, too.
Close groups such as this are one of my favorite aspects of the World Cup. Partly because, as a soccer fan, I love it when fixtures are completely unpredictable.
As a bettor, I appreciate the fact that these situations typically throw up some valuable betting opportunities.
Is that what’s happened here? Let’s a take a look at the odds offered by the bookies and see.
Colombia was sensational in the 2014 World Cup finals, and James Rodriguez was the top scorer of the tournament. The country reached the quarterfinals and was knocked out dramatically by the hosts, Brazil.
It was an exceptional performance that highlighted the potential of the Colombian team. 4 years later, the group of players is similar, and the expectations of the nation are high.
Their main man is no longer a promising youngster but a true superstar despite an inconsistent period in Real Madrid. The attacking midfielder has rejuvenated his career in Bayern Munich and will be hoping to prove his worth once again in Russia.
James is not the only quality player in the Colombian squad, though. The likes of Radamel Falcao, Juan Cuadrado, and David Ospina are all vital for the team.
What makes them even more lethal is that their careers haven’t gone exactly the way they would’ve wanted to recently. As a result, Colombia has both the talent and motivation to make something happen in the 2018 World Cup.
The country has a solid keeper in Ospina and a strong defensive unit by the Tottenham rising star Davinson Sanchez. The midfield has plenty of flair players who are not afraid to get their hands dirty when it matters the most.
On top of everything else, Colombia is coached by Jose Pekerman, who has exceptional experience and tactical knowledge. He is a man who could recognize any weakness in the opposition and exploit it ruthlessly.
To be honest, I expect a lot from Colombia during the World Cup, and I feel this is one of the teams that could go a long way. This is why the odds for the South Americans to win the group seem tempting. Still, let’s take a look at the others first.
Poland has a team full of potential – that was easy to see in EURO 2016. The country reached the quarterfinals there, and then managed to qualify for the World Cup finals with ease by winning 8 of the 10 games played.
Robert Lewandowski has been an unstoppable force by scoring 16 goals and becoming the most prolific striker in European qualifications for the competition.
On top of that, he managed 41 goals for Bayern Munich this season. It’s safe to say Poland has one of the most clinical strikers in the world, which makes them dangerous.
The country will also rely on Wojciech Szczesny as a goalie, and he was identified by Juventus as the successor of Buffon, which speaks volumes. There are other talented players in the squad, too.
However, Poland has some issues that must be resolved if they are going to perform well in Russia. For a start, the defense wasn’t that convincing on the road to the World Cup. The country conceded 16 goals in 10 games, and the other teams in this group certainly have the attacking talent to hurt Poland.
The other problem is that the midfield will have to create enough chances for Lewandowski. Players like Piotr Zielinski and Karol Linetty will have to support the striker from deeper positions. If they don’t succeed, the team might struggle up front.
I’m very much on the fence when it comes to this Polish team. It certainly has decent potential and some great players. At the same time, I see some issues that might prevent the country from doing something special in Russia.
This is why I don’t like the odds for Poland to win the group or finish second, and I don’t believe there is any value whatsoever. Sure, the nation has a decent chance, but the other teams in the group are not that far behind.
The last time Senegal played in the World Cup finals, it became only the second African country to reach the quarterfinals. It also beat France and Sweden to progress through the group stage, so it’s safe to say Senegal made their presence known in 2002.
The country will be hoping to find the same inspiration, and the draw certainly gives them a chance to reach the knockout stage.
Senegal convincingly won its qualifying group with 4 victories, 2 draws, and no losses. Their main weapon is the electric pace and cool finishing of Liverpool star Sadio Mane. He is more than capable of scoring and providing goals, even against the best defenses in the World Cup.
At the same time, Senegal has a decent defense. Kalidou Koulibaly is at the heart of the unit, while Idrissa Gueye provides protection from midfield.
The problem with this Senegal team is that it lacks the tactical discipline at times, which could prove to be a major issue in this group. All of the opponents have the means to punish the Africans and send them home after the first stage of the World Cup.
Still, considering Senegal’s potential and performance in the qualifiers, I feel the odds for them should not be overlooked. Winning the group is probably a bit of a stretch, but reaching the knockout stage is certainly possible.
On paper, the Japanese squad has some solid names in it and should have a chance to actually book a place in the World Cup last 16.
The problem is that the team has been shaken by scandals in the past couple of months. Former coach Vahid Halilhodzic was sacked just 2 months before the tournament’s start.
The official reason is the poor performance of Japan in a couple of friendlies, but his strained relationship with some of the senior players might be what cost the Bosnian his job. Halilhodzic was trying to transform an aging Japanese squad by getting rid of some of the stars from the past and injecting youth players in the team.
Nishino immediately restored the trust in the more experienced Japanese stars. As a result, the country is sending a group with an average age close to 28, which is the oldest ever in Japan’s World Cup history.
Only time will tell if that was the right course, but I don’t think that’s the case. This Japan generation has failed to produce at the biggest stage and was extremely disappointing during the 2014 World.
Most of the main players of Japan, such as Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa, and Shinji Okazaki, are now closer to the end of their careers, and the main burden will be on them. While I feel they still have a lot to give, a mix with more youngsters would’ve been the way to go.
This is the reason I don’t feel Japan has a real chance to reach the last 16. The odds for that to happen might be high, but I don’t see any value up for grabs.
The Key Match in Group H
I think Colombia is the strongest team in this group and should be able to win it. On top of that, they start the campaign with a game against the outsider Japan. A win there will put them in a strong position to dominate.
This is why the other match in the first round will be the most crucial. Poland will face Senegal, and if one of the countries manages to win, this will be a giant step towards the last 16.
Final Prediction and Picks
All things considered, I believe there are two solid picks related to Group H. For a start, Colombia to finish first is priced at 2.20. The odds are good enough for my taste, as the South American side has the most quality in its squad and will be highly motivated.
The second bet I fancy is Senegal to qualify at 2.40. Poland may seem like the favorite to go through, but the Africans are not that far behind, and the price represents good value.
More Group H Related Betting
You probably noticed that I fancy Colombia to have a solid tournament. This is the reason I selected them as one of my potential dark horses of the 2018 World Cup.
There are some good opportunities to make money on the unfancied teams, so you could check my other suggestions as well.
The other market that might be related to this group is the one for top scorer. James Rodriguez won the prize in 2014, and he’s priced at 50.00 to do it again. I see a lot of value here, but there are other tasty options.
Regardless of how this group plays out, I’m going to enjoy watching it all unfold. If the standings end up as I think they might, I’ll enjoy my winnings even more!
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