World Cup Preview: Group G & H – England to pip Belgium and Senegal to top weak ‘H’?

A look at Group G (Belgium, England, Panama, Tunisia) and Group H (Colombia, Japan, Poland, Senegal)...

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Group G

Pessimism aside, there’s no reason that England shouldn’t get out of this group. Similarly, given Belgium’s recent travails in tournaments, there’s no reason Gareth Southgate’s brave boys shouldn’t be aiming to win ‘G’ ahead of Kevin De Bruyne and Co.

Panama and Tunisia shouldn’t provide too stiff a test for either of the European sides, and you’d expect Belgium and England both to progress relatively comfortably.

This is a thoroughly unexceptional English squad, particularly in midfield, but it does have Harry Kane, and often one world-class player is enough to make the difference. Expectations in Blighty seem pretty balanced, with most considering a quarter-final elimination the most realistic parabola for the Three Lions.

Something similar is a reasonable expectation for the Belgians. Their squad suggests they should be challenging for a semi-final berth, but then you remember they’re managed by Roberto Martinez with Thierry Henry as assistant.

Predicted finishing order

1. England, 2. Belgium, 3. Tunisia, 4. Panama

Group H

Tough to call, this one. Japan look the weakest link, but won’t be cast adrift. Several of the squad play their football in Germany, while Maya Yoshida and Keisuke Honda will be well known to UK observers.

Poland are a solid outfit, but aside from Robert Lewandowski don’t have any stars. They will be hard to beat, but ultimately may not have much of an impact on the tournament.

Colombia are not as strong as they were in 2014, but are a decent team nonetheless. They’ll give nothing away at the back, and have some seriously gifted ball-players in midfield, including James Rodriguez, Juan Fernando Quintero and Juan Cuadrado. Up front, they’re a bit samey, but possess several strikers capable of finding the back of the net with regularity.

Perhaps the best team in ‘H’ is Senegal, and not merely because of the presence of Liverpool’s Sadio Mané. At the back, Kalidou Koulibaly is a rock, and one of the most underrated defenders in European football. Gana Gueye is exactly the type of midfielder who thrives in international football, and West Ham’s Cheikhou Kouyaté is no mug alongside him. The main attacking threat is Mané, but Keita Baldé can make an impression if given half a chance.

Predicted finishing order

1. Senegal, 2. Colombia, 3. Poland, 4. Japan

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What do you think?