Coffee Growers and Lions of Teranga possess rich attacking blend and other Senegal v Colombia talking points

Matt Jones 27/06/2018
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Group H reaches a crescendo on Thursday with Senegal taking on Colombia in Samara, both nations chasing the victory required to qualify for the World Cup‘s knockout stages.

Japan and Senegal are joint top heading into the decider, so Los Cafeteros (the Coffee Growers) know only a win will guarantee them progression for the second successive tournament to the business end.

The Lions of Teranga, meanwhile, will hope to roar just like they did on their World Cup debut 16 years ago.

Here, we take a look at three talking points ahead of the crunch clash.

JUAN’S THE MAN FOR COLOMBIA

Cuadrado

James Rodriguez rightly grabs the headlines for Colombia, but Juan Cuadrado deserves huge credit for sprinkling his stardust on a 3-0 win over Poland in which he was magical.

Rodriguez, having not quite been fit enough to start the opener, was key as he delivered assists to both Yerry Mina and Cuadrado’s killer third goal, but it was the silky Juventus wideman who tailored this victory with a striking performance.

The 30-year-old played as many key passes as the Bayern Munich man (three), had just four less touches (84, Colombia’s second highest), embarked on as many dribbles and didn’t lose the ball once in a performance which the Polish defence will have nightmares about for the next four years.

Cuadrado signed off for the night in style as he ran onto Rodriguez’s sublime through ball and sealed an emphatic victory late on, no less than he deserved.

The goal and man-of-the-match performance must have left a sweet taste in the mouth of the Los Cafeteros star after a disjointed season heading into the World Cup at club level.

Cuadrado endured a tumultuous time of it in Turin during an injury-plagued 2017/18 campaign in which he featured just 29 times in all competitions as he was dogged by a groin problem.

His eye-catching performance in Kazan would have felt like vindication for the flying forward, and he’ll provide problems for Senegal’s defence in this pivotal Group H decider.

 

WHEN ARE WE GOING TO SEE KEITA BALDE?

Keita Balde

Monaco’s Keita Balde is a rising talent, but has not played a minute at the World Cup so far.

It’s been a bit of a surprise Senegal have not unleashed Keita Balde on the tournament yet.

Aliou Cisse swooped to snap up the dynamic forward in 2016 upon his announcement he would opt to play for the country of his parents rather than the country of his birth.

The 23-year-old starlet was born to Senegalese parents living in Spain and was a budding star at Barcelona before a prank on a teammate involving an ice cube during a youth team trip to the Middle East saw the then 15-year-old sent out on loan to satellite club UE Cornella as punishment.

Who knows if that cooled Keita’s warmth towards the Blaugrana, but after 47 goals in one season for Cornella he turned down the chance to return to the Camp Nou and signed with Serie A giants Lazio for €300,000, aged just 16.

It’s been a stellar rise since, bagging 31 goals in 137 senior appearances as he soared for Le Aquile (the Eagles) before fetching a sky-high price of £40 million from French behemoths Monaco last summer.

He captured eight goals in 33 appearances and ended a maiden season in the principality in solid form – but he is yet to be summoned from the bench in Russia.

Keita divided opinion in Ligue 1, dipping in and out of form regularly. For each electric performance, he would then fail to produce in the next game.

He is, however, a difference maker. And with the Lions of Teranga taking on a Colombia in peak form, Balde could provide the X Factor.

EXPECT GOALS

Colombia veteran Radamel Falcao is just one of a myriad of attacking options for both sides.

Colombia veteran Radamel Falcao is just one of a myriad of attacking options for both sides.

Senegal have faced South American opposition just once previously in a World Cup. On that occasion during their bow on the game’s grandest stage, they drew 3-3 in their final group game of 2002 against Uruguay.

With their defence all at sea, they conceded two sloppy goals having twice taken the lead last time out against Japan, there could be an ocean of goals in this one – with both sides boasting rich attacking content, not to mention the fact only a victory guarantees Colombia’s progression to the last 16.

After a commanding performance as Senegal opened the tournament with a somewhat surprisingly easy 2-1 victory over much-fancied Poland, Cisse’s side again looked sublime going forward as they went 1-0 and 2-1 up against Japan last time out in Yekaterinburg.

But the Samurai Blue sliced through some shoddy defence to claw themselves back into the contest each time, which will definitely be a concern for a pragmatic Cisse.

Los Cafeteros are coming into the decider off the back of a swashbuckling 3-0 blitz of the poor Poles in which progression hopes were killed off in Kazan.

After Carlos Sanchez’s early red card in their 2-1 defeat to Japan on matchday one, they blew away the blues to saunter to victory in style, a win underpinned by the brilliance of James Rodriguez as their attack hummed.

With World Cup futures on the line, two squads playing some scintillating football and boasting explosive attacking talent, there could be fireworks.

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Trent Alexander-Arnold should be deployed for England and Harry Kane will benefit

Alex Rea 27/06/2018
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Momentum or experimentation? The question for both England and Belgium managers Gareth Southgate and Roberto Martinez is whether to stick or twist – and that goes for group position, too.

The two sides square off for their final Group G clash at the Kaliningrad Stadium with progression to the last-16 already secured.

However, top spot could become a bit of a hot potato with Group H’s make-up to be decided earlier on Thursday. Colombia are a potential banana skin in the knockouts for the winners of Group G.

That means changes are likely for the Three Lions and Red Devils and with that, brings a myriad of tactical talking points.

Here, we examine three of the most prominent.

KEEP THE CONCENTRATION

Three Lions shot-stopper Jordan Pickford.

From their two opening World Cup wins England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has registered just a single save with Panama (they scored once from a set-piece) and Tunisia (their only goal arriving from the penalty spot) firing 11 of 14 shots wide of the mark.

His opposite number Thibaut Courtois has also been forced to endure a similarly quiet campaign in Russia with the Belgium stopper making three of his five saves in the 5-2 hammering of Tunisia.

So while eyes are naturally zoned in on the personnel in front of the two custodians, both Pickford and Courtois can use Thursday’s fixture to ensure their concentration is locked in for the knockouts.

Indeed, as we’ve already seen in Russia, long spells of dominating possession has led to uncharacteristic mistakes from some of the best goalkeepers in world football, Spain’s David De Gea a notable victim of laxity.

That is unlikely to be the case for either in Kaliningrad with the pair hoping to pass their first stern examination.

GOOD OR BAD KOMPANY

Preparing for a return: Vincent Kompany.

Much has been made of Martinez’s stubborn desire to glue his side to the 3-4-2-1 formation he’s adopted since taking charge of Belgium.

The critics have argued that while it is advantageous against sides who sit in deep and surrender possession, the system has vulnerabilities when tested by teams with more notion of attacking.

And England, with their own forward-thinking full-backs linked to buzzing No8s, are built to exploit the gaps exposed by Belgium’s wingers-come-wingbacks, regardless of the position’s occupants on Thursday.

With Thomas Vermaelen and Vincent Kompany expected to make their first appearances in Russia, the pair entered the tournament carrying injuries, two of the three centre-backs could be changed meaning Belgium’s left side is ripe for a ripping.

If Kompany and Vermaelen struggle to shift across and block the channels in one v one situations, England could have plenty of joy from wide positions.

GOLDEN KANE TO PROFIT FROM TAA

Prolific so far: Harry Kane has netted five times.

Thursday represents a perfect platform to accelerate the maturation of Trent Alexander-Arnold while also providing Southgate with a look at England’s other set-piece specialist.

The Three Lions have built their success in Russia on profiting from the delicious delivery of Kieran Trippier as Southgate – inspired by his admiration of American football – has unleashed a playbook of training ground routines to great effect.

And Liverpool’s teenage star Alexander-Arnold is a natural replacement for Tottenham’s Trippier – who did limp off in the Panama pasting – as he possesses deadly service of his own.

His ratio of almost one accurate cross per game was one of the highest for Liverpool last season and it’s a weapon which could benefit Harry Kane’s Golden Boot bid because the 19-year-old’s delivery has variety – floated, flat or fast – and precision from either open play or dead-ball situations.

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Japan closing in on second round World Cup berth and more talking points ahead of Poland clash

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In for a fight: Japan need a point to secure round-of-16 berth.

Japan and Poland face-off in their final World Cup Group H match in Volgograd on Thursday evening (18:00 kick-off UAE time).

Both teams enter the clash with contrasting fortunes as Japan look to prolong their journey in the competition while Poland are already out.

Here, we assess the key talking points.

What is on the line for Japan

By avoiding defeat, Japan will seal their passage through to the second round. Even better, a victory could see the Asian giants top the group – only if Senegal fail to defeat Colombia.

Should neither of those permutations come to fruition, Japan can still progress – even if they lose. Indeed, Akira Nishino’s men will qualify if Senegal overcome Colombia in a match that kicks off simultaneously at the Samara Arena.

However, if those two teams draw and the Samurai Blue lose, then it would be Japan who will be eliminated from the competition due to Colombia’s superior goal difference.

Furthermore, a qualification spot could be decided by the fair play points ruling (the amount of yellow and red cards) if Senegal and Japan both lose or draw by equal scorelines.

The prize for the winner of the group is a round-of-16 meeting with Group G runners-up, to be either Belgium or England.

The team who finishes second in Group H will of course also take on one of those aforementioned teams.

KAZAN, RUSSIA - JUNE 25: Japan players arrive on the pitch during a Japan training session on June 25, 2018 in Kazan, Russia. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

A nation expects: Japan will be doing everything to ensure progression.

Can Poland restore any pride?

The only certainty in Group H is that Poland are long gone having lost their opening two matches.

The Poles headed into this tournament as one of the favourites to advance from their pool but they have been a huge disappointment.

Lacking what many have questioned as spirit, desire, work-rate and energy, the Poles were eliminated with a whimper after defeats, 2-1 to Senegal, and a 3-0 thrashing to Colombia.

It means their unwelcome record of not progressing beyond the group stages of the tournament since 1986 goes on.

Even though it is a lost cause, can Adam Nawalka’s men at least give their passionate travelling support in Russia something to cheer about?

It will be difficult, the odds are stacked against them and facing a Japanese side who have everything to play for makes it look unlikely.

If they are to salvage some pride, getting the best out of star man, Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, will be pivotal.

Goalless in the opening two games, the nation’s captain has openly criticised his team-mates for a lack of service. Against Colombia, he managed two shots on target, one a speculative drive from range, in a team devoid of creativity and invention. Clearly, he was a frustrated man.

Indeed, in that game, no starting Poland player averaged above an 84 per cent pass completion success rate – going some way to showing the frailties in this side.

Lewandowski can not do it all alone and the 29-year-old will need assistance from his teammates in order to put him in more formidable attacking positions. A goal or a performance of note would at least ease some of the pain on Thursday.

The return of Arkadiusz Milik – the Napoli maestro who was dropped for the Colombia clash – could bring some crucial substance and help Lewandowski as Nawalka is set to revert to his more well deployed 4-2-3-1 system.

Poland's forward Robert Lewandowski reacts during a press conference at the Sputnik Sports Ground in Sochi on June 25, 2018 at the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup football tournament. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP) (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Downbeat: Robert Lewandowski in his pre-match press conference.

Back Keisuke Honda to make more history with Japan

Only twice before have Japan reached the round of 16, as joint-hosts in 2002 and back in 2010.

Pachuca star Honda – his nation’s darling – was part of the latter and magnified his status as Japan’s best-ever player in the thrilling draw with Senegal.

By netting the equaliser in that contest with a cool finish into an empty net at the back post, he became the only Japanese player to score in three World Cups and is also the highest-scoring Asian in the history of the competition with four.

His introduction off the bench for Shinji Kagawa with just 18 minutes to go last Sunday, inspired Japan’s fightback. Indeed, it took Honda just six minutes to find the net.

Japan have kept the same side for both games so far but former AC Milan man Honda also made his mark in the first match, assisting Yuya Osako for the winner against Senegal within three minutes of coming on again.

Handing the 32-year-old a start from the off has to be an option here to ensure Japan experience no nerve-wracking moments late on, or perhaps sticking to a trialled and tested formula that has worked to good effect so far is the best call.

Either way, Honda is set to make an impact and don’t be surprised if he’s the difference once more.

Japan's midfielder Keisuke Honda celebrates a goal during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group H football match between Japan and Senegal at the Ekaterinburg Arena in Ekaterinburg on June 24, 2018. (Photo by Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS (Photo credit should read ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP/Getty Images)

A familiar sight: Keisuke Honda celebrates finding the back of the net.

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