Japan 400/1 Spread Ex
Captain: Makoto Hasebe
Manager: Akira Nishino
Nickname: Samurai Blue
FIFA Rank: 60
Japan have qualified for the World Cup for a sixth consecutive time. Vahid Halilhodžić was sacked two months before the start of the World Cup. He was replaced by Akira Nishino. The 63-year-old coached the Japanese men’s Olympic side in 1996. He will have three games to assess his players against Ghana, Switzerland and Paraguay.
Shinji Kagawa has been named in the provisional squad. The Dortmund midfielder has been struggling with injuries of late. Keisuke Honda will provide Japan with attacking options on the right-wing. AC Milan splashed out approximately £18m for Honda in 2014. The 31-year-old now plays for Pachuca in the Mexican league.
Nishino has got lots of work to do in a very short space of time. Nobody outside of Japan will give them a chance and their defence will be put to the test this Summer. The 2018 World Cup may well provide the platform in which to rebuild.
Colombia 50/1 Spread Ex
Captain: Radamel Falcao
Manager: Jose Pekerman
Nickname: Los Cafeteros
Colombia’s qualification record wasn’t anything to shout about. They won just 7-of-18 games. Jose Pekerman led Colombia to the quarter-finals in 2014. Another last-eight appearance will be a great achievement.
Los Cafeteros has an abundance of talent, most of which have played in Europe’s top leagues. James Rodriguez has had a good season for Bayern Munich. His six-goal tally won him the Golden Boot in 2014. That stellar performance earned him a big-money move to Real Madrid. Veteran, Radamel Falcao looks set to lead the Colombian line. Falcao has spent most of his career playing in Europe for big-name clubs. Barcelona’s Yerry Mina is likely to partner with Tottenham’s Davidson Sanchez at the back. Both players have promising careers ahead of them. Juan Cuadrado is in great form and will provide a threat on the right-wing. Striker, Carlos Bacca will provide a good alternative for Falcao. Bacca had a productive domestic season, he scored 15 goals, helping Villarreal to a 5th place finish in La Liga.
The 50/1 outsiders are fancied at 10/1 to reach the semi-finals. Pekerman has got plenty of quality at his disposal. Don’t be surprised to see Colombia topping the group.
Senegal 200/1 Various bookies
Captain: Cheikhou Kouyaté
Manager: Aliou Cissé
Nickname: The Lions of Teranga
Senegal has qualified for the World Cup for only the second time in their history. They made the quarter-finals in 2002 and they were skipped by the current head coach. Aliou Cissé once played for Birmingham City, Portsmouth and PSG. Senegal will warm up for the finals with three games against Luxembourg, Croatia and South Korea.
Sadio Mané has been in great form for Liverpool. One small criticism of the Liverpool winger is his desire to do it all himself. Mané will be an influential player for The Lions of Teranga. Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly will provide leadership at the back. Koulibaly reads the game well and is blessed with pace and strength, he’s not afraid to put his foot in. Cheikhou Kouyate will provide the anchor in midfield. The skipper made 37 appearances for West Ham United this season in all competitions.
Senegal has what it takes to make it into the round-of-32 but their World Cup adventure is likely to end there. Should they score, Cissé’s team will display some outrageously flamboyant goal celebrations.
Poland 70/1 Unibet
Captain: Robert Lewandowski (photographed above)
Manager: Adam Nawalka
Nickname: The Eagles
FIFA Rank: 10
Zbigniew Boniek’s heroics during the 1982 World Cup earned Poland a third-place finish. The Eagles haven’t had a great deal to cheer about at the World Cup since then. Adam Nawalka guided Poland to the quarterfinals at Euro 2016. Qualification for Russia 2018 was achieved without too much difficulty. Expect Poland to be well supported by their vocal fans.
Robert Lewandowski is arguably Poland’s greatest ever player. The prolific striker has had a phenomenal season for Bayern Munich, scoring 41 goals in 48 appearances. Napoli’s Piotr Zielinski and Sampdoria’s Karol Linetty are both very talented midfielders. European scouts will be watching them closely. Wojciech Szczesny spent much of the season on the bench at Juventus. The Poland number one will be eager to walk out against Senegal in their Group H opener. The back-four will be marshalled by Monaco’s Kamil Glik.
Group H consists of a blend of technically gifted players and Poland have their fair share of them. Poland’s strength in depth will be put to the test in a competitive group. The fringe players, such as Grzegorz Krychowiak haven’t had the best of seasons. Polish hopes are set on a quarterfinal appearance. Over to Mr Lewandowski.
*Written on May 17th by John Wozniak **Odds correct at the time of writing
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