Paul Higham attempts to figure out the biggest group conundrum in the World Cup as surprise package Japan are tipped to continue their run.
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Scenario: Japan need only draw with Poland, who have been eliminated, to progress to the next round. Senegal and Colombia play off with the winner qualifying, while a draw will be enough for the African side.
- Japan 2-1 Poland
- Senegal 1-3 Colombia
Japan v Poland (1500 BST - BBC Two)
We said this group was wide-open before the tournament, but few expected Japan to be heading into this game only needing a draw to go through – against a Poland side that has already been eliminated.
Japan may have been lucky enough to play against ten men for most of the Colombia win, but you had to be impressed with them coming from behind twice against Senegal to rescue a point that now puts them in pole position (pardon the pun) for qualification.
Poland have been beyond disappointing given the talent in their squad, as they’ve just not worked out how to get Robert Lewandowski on the ball in dangerous areas – the man who bagged 16 in qualifying has been starved of service from the start.
While 9/4 on the draw seems sensible, I’ll be backing Japan to win this one at 17/10 (BoyleSports) and if you're also going that way then take the 2/1 Black Type offer on them winning the group - as success against Poland means Senegal would have to better their result against Colombia to pip them to top spot.
There’s been at least three goals in every group game so far leading to at best 5/6 for both teams to score, but it’s important to note Poland are the only team to draw a blank and their one and only goal was a late consolation against Senegal.
It’s not all cut and dried for Japan though, their lack of a clean sheet is a worry and, as always, the first goal will be crucial as should Poland get in then you can imagine panic setting in for the Samurai Blue.
So take any odds against you can get on over 2.5 goals (23/20 with Bet Stars) as Poland have nothing to lose and there hasn’t been a dull game in this group – yet!
I’m a big backer of late goals and penalties in this World Cup – as both have been a regular occurrence and again I can see a late strike either way coming in this one.
Betway go 6/5 on a goal between the 76th minute and full time and when you consider there have been 21 goals scored in the last five minutes already in this tournament – astonishingly with 17 of them in the 90th minute or stoppage time – then that’s good enough for me.
Prediction: Japan 2-1 Poland (Sky Bet odds: 9/1)
Best Bet: Japan to beat Poland at 17/10
- Japan have won each of their two encounters against Poland, winning 5-0 in February 1996 and 2-0 in March 2002.
- Poland’s only World Cup meeting with an Asian side came in 2002 – losing 2-0 in the group stages against South Korea.
- Poland became the first European nation eliminated from the 2018 World Cup when they lost to Colombia – this is the third consecutive World Cup tournament they’ve gone out at the group stage (also 2002 and 2006).
- Takashi Inui has scored three goals in his last three games for Japan; this after scoring just two in his previous 26 matches for the national team.
- Japan haven’t gone undefeated in three consecutive World Cup games since 2002 – those three unbeaten games were all in the group stage as they qualified for Round 2.
- Poland haven’t kept a clean sheet at the World Cup since winning 1-0 against Portugal in 1986, conceding 23 goals across 10 games since then.
- Japan have scored four goals at the 2018 World Cup, double the amount they managed in 2014; in only one previous tournament have they ever scored more, netting five in 2002 when they were joint-hosts with South Korea.
Senegal v Colombia (1500 BST - BBC One)
This game's a real head-scratcher, but then this entire group has been so it’s fitting that we finish off with this conundrum. Preference is for Colombia and especially at a best price of even money with Marathon Bet, when they’re odds-on everywhere else.
Having watched all the previous games in this group you have to give Colombia credit as they played superbly with ten men against Japan and then wiped the floor with Poland in a must-win encounter.
James Rodriguez only started the Poland game and offered that extra golden touch that really made the difference – allowing Radamel Falcao the licence to do what he does best and sniff out goal-scoring opportunities.
Contrast that form with Senegal, who lost the battle for possession in both games, and that shows the expected pattern of this one, with the Africans very much set to soak up pressure and try and hit Colombia on the break.
With the pace they have up front they’re well capable of getting on the scoresheet, and although I never like to tempt fate this has all the ingredients to be a great game of football – Sky Bet go 6/4 on over 2.5 goals and both teams to score and that’s right where you’d expect this game to be.
I think this could be the game for Rodriguez, he’s 11/2 first goalscorer and 2/1 anytime, but the 7/2 on him being Man of the Match is a safer bet given his worldwide fame and how the award is voted for by the public.
Colombia just look like a side on the up to me and this could be the game they prove that both England and Belgium should be really worried if they face them in the next round.
Prediction: Senegal 1-3 Colombia (Sky Bet odds: 16/1)
- Colombia’s first World Cup match against African opposition came in 1990, losing 2-1 in extra-time to Cameroon – since then, they’ve won both such meetings, in 1998 against Tunisia and 2014 against Ivory Coast.
- James Rodriguez has been involved in 10 goals in seven World Cup appearances for Colombia (6 goals, 4 assists).
- Colombia registered their joint-biggest World Cup win in their 3-0 victory over Poland, also winning by three-goal margins against Greece (3-0) and Japan (4-1) in 2014.
- Moussa Wagué became the first African teenager to score a World Cup goal in Senegal’s 2-2 draw with Japan (19y 263d).
- James Rodriguez has been involved in 10 of Colombia’s last 14 World Cup goals, with six goals and four assists.
- Sadio Mané found the net against Japan, the 15th different match he’d scored in for Senegal – they are yet to lose any of those (W9 D6).
- Colombia have scored four goals from seven shots on target at the 2018 World Cup, scoring three goals from four shots on target in their 3-0 win over Poland.
- Since keeping a clean sheet against France in their first ever World Cup match in 2002, Senegal haven’t recorded a shutout in any of their last six, conceding three goals from just seven shots on target faced at this year’s tournament.
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Odds correct at 1300 BST on 27/06/18
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