MOSCOW (AP) — Guide to the teams in Group H at the World Cup:
It’s the first World Cup since 2006 for Poland, whose fans are likely to travel to Russia in large numbers. It could be the last chance to play on the biggest stage for strikers Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will be 29 and 32 respectively by the finals.
Poland is largely unchanged from the team which reached Euro 2016 quarterfinals where it lost on penalties to eventual champion Portugal. One concern in qualifying was a 4-0 thrashing by Denmark in September that raised concerns about the defense.
KEY PLAYER: Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) — Already Poland’s record goal scorer, he scored a European-high 16 goals in qualifying.
COACH: Adam Nawalka — Turned Poland from a counter-attacking team into one which seeks to dominate possession.
Senegal is back at the World Cup for the first time since its stunning debut in 2002, when it beat defending champion France on the way to the quarterfinals, then only the second African team to make the last eight.
This qualification has been contentious, with Senegal benefiting from an unprecedented decision by FIFA to order a replay of its 2-1 loss in South Africa because of match-fixing by the referee. Senegal took advantage to win the replay, changing the dynamic of the group.
KEY PLAYER: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) — With his blistering pace, Mane has been every bit as effective for Senegal as he has for Liverpool.
COACH: Aliou Cisse — Senegal will take a reminder of its dream World Cup debut in 2002 to Russia next year. Cisse was captain of the 2002 team and returns to the World Cup as coach of his country.
Reached the quarterfinals four years ago in Brazil and has the talent to do it again.
This will be Colombia’s second straight appearance after sitting out for 16 years. Qualifying was a struggle this time. Colombia waited until the last match to make it to Russia.
KEY PLAYER: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich) — A breakthrough talent at the 2014 World Cup, exemplified by a stunning volley against Uruguay, Rodriguez quickly secured a move from Monaco to Real Madrid. After struggling to make an impact in Spain, Rodriguez is at Bayern Munich on loan trying to revive his form ahead of the World Cup.
COACH: Jose Pekerman — gets much of the credit for getting Colombia back into the World Cup. Also led his native Argentina to the quarterfinals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
While the squad lacks the star power of many other World Cup teams, Japan can count on a group of reliable players with plenty of European experience. Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki of Leicester should play key roles.
Japan finished first in Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia.
KEY PLAYER: Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) — With 89 caps, the midfield star is part of an experienced core of players also including Okazaki, defender Yuto Nagamoto and midfielder Keisuke Honda.
COACH: Vahid Halilhodzic — Japan hopes the 65-year-old Bosnian can replicate his success with Algeria at the 2014 World Cup, when he took the North African nation into the last 16 for the first time.