Colombia, Japan, Poland, Senegal
The third round of CAF qualifying was a breeze for Senegal as they finished five points ahead of Burkina Faso as well as completing the six matches unbeaten. Their defence was solid and conceded just three times.
Colombia narrowly reached the 2018 World Cup in Russia as they finished fourth in CONMEBOL, the last automatic qualification place. Peru, who advanced via the play-offs, were just a point behind; as were Chile who missed out altogether despite their star names.
Japan topped Group B in the final section, winning six of their 10 matches to finish ahead of Saudi Arabia and ensure that Australia would have to navigate the play-offs.
Poland’s route to Russia showed that they are one of the most talented squads in the country’s recent history – they finished first in their group and lost just once as they scored 28 goals. Robert Lewandowski was Europe’s top scorer, finding the next 16 times.
Previous World Cups
Brazil 2014 was Colombia’s best showing as they performed excellently to reach the quarter-finals. James Rodriguez claimed the Golden Boot with six goals, and his performances secured a big-money move to Real Madrid from AS Monaco.
This summer will mark Japan’s sixth tournament in a row, and they have reached the last-16 stage twice – in 2002 and 2010 – though Brazil 2014 was a major disappointment as they exited in the group stage with a single point. Colombia and Japan met in Brazil, with the South Americans 4-1 winners.
Senegal are appearing at just their second World Cup, but they made a huge impact in 2002 as they beat the holders France and made their way to the last-eight.
Poland have underperformed at the World Cup since 1982, when they, as in 1974, reached the semi-finals and ultimately finished third. This is their first appearance since 2006, when they were knocked out in the group stage.
Adam Nawałka has been in charge of his native Poland since 2013 and has impressed. His side reached the quarter-finals of Euro 2016 and the 60-year-old has the personnel to try and match that.
Aliou Cissé is undertaking his first senior job in football management but given the infrequency of Senegal’s appearances at the World Cup, just being there is an achievement in itself, so the 42-year-old former Paris Saint-Germain player will hope his side play without fear.
Leading his native Argentina team to be runners-up in the 2005 Confederations Cup is José Pékerman’s biggest coaching achievement to date, though he was also at the helm at for Colombia at the last World Cup and will fancy his team’s chances of at least getting to the last-16, though tougher fixtures await.
Akira Nishino took charge of Japan in April after Vahid Halilhodžić was surprisingly sacked despite leading them to Russian qualification. The Asians won just one of their three warm-up fixtures, though ended with a 4-2 win over Paraguay.
Colombia have named a strong squad with James Rodriguez, who currently plays for Bayern Munich, and Radamel Falcao the standout names. Davinson Sanchez impressed in his first Tottenham Hotspur campaign and will be an important part of their backline.
Poland’s squad is multi-talented and boasts experience with Wojciech Szczęsny and Grzegorz Krychowiak both having played at the highest level. A lot, though, will clearly hinge on the performances of Robert Lewandowski – the Bayern Munich player is arguably the most complete striker in world football and could make his 100th appearance in Russia.
Sadio Mane is undoubtedly Senegal’s talisman with the Liverpool forward a major part of his club’s march to the Champions League final, with the 26-year-old scoring against Real Madrid in their defeat. The Africans also have Idrissa Gueye, who is understated but one of the most effective defensive midfielders in the Premier League, and Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly.
This is not a vintage Japan squad, but the two Shinjis – Kagawa and Okazaki – have very good records at international level, having scored 30 and 50 times respectively. Maya Yoshida, the Southampton defender, is also vastly experienced.
If they both play to their potential then Group H is going to be a straight battle for top spot between Poland and Colombia, who meet on matchday two. Any underperforming, though, could easily lead to defeat and an early exit, with Senegal in particular a threat. Poland and Senegal meet on Tuesday and the odds are close.