Group H was one of the most finely poised before a ball was kicked. Looking at Group A, for example, it is easy to establish a team that definitely should progress and, conversely, one that definitely should not.
The last World Cup group to be played in Russia proved to be as many thought; the most unpredictable.
Tuesday’s action left the two favourites to progress – Poland and Colombia – licking their wounds following 2-1 defeats to the underdogs, leaving less-favoured teams Japan and Senegal joint-top of the group.
Whilst the Senegalese played fairly well and were good value for their win against a rather lacklustre Polish side, they profited from a large slice of luck in both of their goals.
In the first half, Idrissa Gueye’s poorly struck shot deflected into the bottom corner after Wojciech Szczesny had already dived the other way and after the break, an amateurish back-pass from Grzegorz Krychowiak handed Mbaye Niang a goal on a silver platter.
Despite a rather a muted celebration, Aliou Cisse was the happiest man in the stadium.
Arguably the worst player on the pitch, Krychowiak grabbed a headed consolation goal from a free kick, but Poland could not mount a comeback in the remaining five minutes.
Here are five things we learned:
1 Poland are not the dark horses some thought
Robert Lewandowski set a record in World Cup qualification for his country by scoring 16 goals in the campaign, more than any player in European history.
The Bayern Munich striker’s imperious form means that Poland are a goal threat against any side.
The striker’s potency, combined with his national side’s defence, led many to think not only would the side qualify from their group, but also spring a shock in the tournament as a whole.
Unfortunately for Poland, Kamil Glik could not recover in time from an injury to start at centre half which was a big loss for them. Szczesny, moreover, may turn out for Juventus, but he is also a liability. As bad as the back-pass to him was from Krychowiak, his decision to rush off his line handed a certain goal to Senegal.
Poland are not dead and buried in this group by a long stretch, but their tag of dark horses is fading quickly.
This is not something Lewandowski can solve by himself.
2 Niang gets the nod
In the build-up to the World Cup, manager Aliou Cisse experimented plenty with his side, trying three at the back, two up front and a narrow setup. You name it, he tried it.
As a result, it was hard to be certain how his Senegal side would line up on the biggest stage of them all.
One of the doubts was over who would be used in attack. Finally, it was Niang - with Mame Biram Diouf - who started against Poland rather than the ex-West Ham forward Diafra Sakho and much to Senegal’s delight, as he put his side two goals ahead.
Now, if he stays fit, the position should be his.
Keita Balde is another who was unlucky to miss out on a starting position. He has great potential and is a fantastic dribbler of the ball. Cisse opted for Ismaila Sarr, though, who proved his worth, posing a threat thanks to his speed down the right flack.
Similarly, the Rennes man should remain on the team sheet for the next match.
3 Senegal's pace is a weapon
Senegal’s second goal came about partly in thanks to the lack of awareness from Grzegorz Krychowiak, but also to the lightning pace of Mbaye Niang.
The Watford striker latched onto the Pole’s wild back-pass to nick the ball away from Wojciech Szczesny and finish into an empty net.
Niang is not the only Senegalese forward with lightning pace. Sadio Mane, Sarr and Keita are all just as quick and will continue to stretch defences as long as the Lions of Teranga grace the World Cup.
Against Poland, Senegal regularly played long balls over the top for their attack to latch on to and let their wingers take on defenders with the ball. Colombia and Japan should expect the same.
4 Group H is wide open
Group H was arguably the toughest to pick a clear winner from.
Conceivably, any of the four could take home the number one spot, though Colombia and Poland were pre-tournament favourites to do so. Following Tuesday’s results, however, Japan and Senegal find themselves in pole position and now the group is wide open.
This Sunday is a vital day for each team as the two victors face each other in the earlier fixture and the losers match up in the later match.
One misstep from Poland or Colombia and their World Cup is over while victory for Japan or Senegal virtually guarantees a spot in the last-16.
This could lead to some very cagey games as no side wants to throw away their chance at redemption or glory.
Consequently, you still cannot rule out any of the teams, nor can you be certain that any will progress for sure.
5 Neither side should make it to the quarter-final
Neither of Senegal’s goals were well worked.
A deflection and a fluke defensive error were the only reasons the Poland net bulged. They failed to create much else in the way of obvious chances and Sarr resorted to diving in the box at one point to try to gain a penalty.
Poland similarly failed to create many clear-cut opportunities for their talismanic striker, but they scored from a well worked free kick.
Ultimately, they weren’t good enough up front or composed enough at the back to take advantage of what was a mediocre Senegal performance.
Following the group stage, Group H qualifiers face those from Group G. From the latter group, England and Belgium should reach the knockout stage, and you would not imagine that they would struggle to beat either Poland or Senegal if they turn out how they did on Tuesday afternoon.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss all the action from Day 6 of the World Cup in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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