15:00 BST, Thursday 28th June, Samara Arena (Samara, Russia) BBC One
The only group to contain teams from four separate continents, Group H was arguably the hardest to predict prior to the opening ceremony.
Now heading into the last round of fixtures, three teams remain in contention of taking top spot. With Colombia trailing both Senegal and Japan by a point, José Pékerman’s side almost certainly need a win if they’re to progress into the knockout stages.
Although these sides have yet to face each other competitively, history suggests this should be an exciting clash. The only previous meeting saw Senegal fight back from 2-0 down to take a draw in their 2014 friendly and both teams have scored four goals from their first two group matches.
Last Time Out
Japan 2-2 Senegal
An enthralling game had Senegal twice take the lead only for the Blue Samurai fight back to end the match on even terms.
The African side began the better of the two and were worthy of their lead which came in the 11th minute. It was delivered through a catalogue of Japanese mistakes, eventually bouncing into the net off Sadio Mane’s shin after the Japanese ‘keeper punched a weak shot onto the Liverpool forward.
Rather than push home their advantage, Senegal’s play became less urgent as the first half progressed.
It took a memorable goal from Takashi Inui to bring Japan level, but in doing so, the game became more open.
Moussa Wague restored the lead midway through the second half, becoming the second-youngest African player to score in the World Cup when he swept the ball into the net.
A goalkeeping error – this time from Khadim N’Diaye – restored parity as the game finished with Japan the stronger team from an evenly contested match.
Poland 0-3 Colombia
The Polish team were sent tumbling to an early exit as Colombia recorded their first win in convincing style. The game had started slowly, Colombia finding it hard to break down a compact but unadventurous European side who stood before them.
With few chances of note during the first half, the match received a welcome injection of life just prior to half time. Poor marking from a short-corner left James Rodriguez plenty of time to pick out the head of Yerry Mina, the 6ft4 defender converting the cross unchallenged from four yards out.
After the break the match became more open as Poland pressed for a way back into the game. Colombia soaked up everything thrown at them and also found increased threat themselves playing on the break.
Two quick counter-attacks provided more distance in the scoreline, first Falcao then Juan Cuadrado applying the finishing touch to these moves. It was a professional and clinical performance from Colombia and was a fair reflection of their dominance in the game.
Having switched from using two forwards in their opening game to a lone striker against Japan, Aliou Cisse could well stick with this more restrained formation against the Colombians.
Abdoulaye Diallo could replace N’Diaye in goal after losing his place in the team through injury during the qualifiers, coupled with N’Diaye’s mistake against Japan.
The other most likely change would be for Cheikhou Kouyaté to replace Badou N’Diaye in midfield, however, the Stoke City player could keep his place in the starting lineup.
Carlos Sánchez will be available for selection after serving his one-match suspension for the red card picked up against Japan, but Abel Aguilar (groin) was stretchered off against Poland and is unavailable.
Wilmar Barrios is expected to keep his place alongside Sánchez at the base of midfield despite other options being available, but the defence and attack should both look the same as they did against Poland.
Key Battle: Moussa Wague (Senegal) vs James Rodriguez (Colombia)
There’s little doubt over who Colombia’s star player is. Having picked up the Golden Boot four years ago with a six-goal haul – that included the official goal of the tournament – Rodriguez is still the player who makes Colombia tick.
His seven World Cup appearances has seen him directly involved in ten goals and he was again their liveliest player in their last match.
The Bayern Munich forward ensured he issued a reminder of what Colombia were missing in their Group H opener with two assists against Japan – the first a pinpoint accurate cross that found Yerry Mina and the second a brilliant curling pass from the left flank to send Juan Cuadrado through on goal.
Looking to stop him extending this impressive record, however, is a player who has shown great potential.
Senegal’s right-back has pace and energy to burn, something which saw him ably supporting his team’s attacking players against Japan.
While his attacking play has impressed, however, he’s shown room for improvement in the defensive side to his game and this will come under scrutiny on Thursday afternoon, especially if Rodriguez decides to target him as an area to exploit.
The art of warming up
While Senegal’s fans have become known for the way in which they clean up at the end of a game, the players are making a reputation for themselves before the first whistle is even blown.
Their warm up prior to the game involves a well-choreographed dance routine which has caught the world’s attention.
More than just adding a smile to those watching on, it’s also adding a smile to the players themselves. This is proving to be the perfect way for their players to relax during the minutes building up to kick-off and could be a reason contributing to their good starts to their matches.
Colombia have largely been overlooked as dark horses for this World Cup because of one fundamental weakness in their side. Goal-scoring.
For all of the attacking midfield talent in their squad, they lack a prolific striker to lead the frontline. Carlos Bacca, Teófilo Gutiérrez and Radamel Falcao scored a combined total of six goals during their qualifying campaign.
Falcao has, however, found a return to form since returning to Monaco. The 32-year-old has recorded 54 goals from his 79 appearances over the past two seasons but only has four from 13 with the national squad over this same period.
Now at his first World Cup finals and with a strike against Poland to get him off the mark, Falcao could prove to be the missing ingredient his country need.
Prediction: Senegal 3-2 Colombia
With so much at stake and both teams capable of scoring, there’s likely to be plenty of goals in this game.
Senegal looked to have the most balanced team from the group’s earlier games and this could be enough for them to sneak a marginal victory against the South American side.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss all the action from Day 13 of the World Cup in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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