World Cup Group H: Expect goals in the culture clash between Poland and Senegal
In case you didn't notice, the world's most prestigious football tournament is upon us and has already blessed us with thrills, surprises and drama.
Russia put up five on Saudi Arabia to kick off the competition. Iceland held Argentina. There have been heavyweight clashes between Germany and Mexico, Brazil and Switzerland, but most entertaining of all, Portugal and Spain. Will chance favour us with a similar contest between Poland and Senagal in Group H?
These two under-firing teams will face off for the first time at the Spartak Arena in Moscow. Both topped their qualifying groups to earn places in Russia. Here is how the two shake out ahead of their clash.
FIFA Ranking: 8th
The White and Reds have a brilliant squad guided by the tactically wise Adam Nawalka from the dugout. Nawalka has implemented a 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1 and a 3-4-3 system in recent matches. Expect the traditional 4-4-2 against Senegal.
Nawalka trusts Juventus keeper-in-waiting Wojciech Szczesny between the sticks, opting for his strong reflexes over Lukas Fabianski. Kamil Glik, Lukasz Piszczek, Michal Pazdan and Maciej Rybus will form the four-man backline. Piotr Zielinski will partner with Grzegorz Krychowiak at the centre middle. Jakub Blaszckykow and Kamil Grosicki will be picking their spots along the right and left sides. Robert Lewandowski and a 24-year-old Arkadiusz Milik will be the strike forces.
Nawalka’s strategy is straightforward. The team lacks wingers with pace and technical ability to run past defenders or cut-in from the side. All the eggs are in the no.9 basket. However they can, whenever they can, he wants his team to just get the ball to Lewandowski. That's all.
Lewi looks ready to handle the weight, judging by his 16 goals in 10 qualifiers. He also fired a brace in Poland's 4-0 victory against Lithuania a few days before the tournament kicked off.
He has support, too. Milik was prolific for Napoli last season. A career-threatening ligament injury dipped his form, but the Azzurri striker now looks like his old self. He'll be motivated by the fact the World Cup is the game's biggest shop window.
FIFA Ranking: 27th
This will be the Teranga Lions second appearance in a World Cup. They caused a major upset in 2002, defeating France in the opener then making the quarterfinals. Aliou Cisse's ambition will be matching that feat. Victory against Poland is the first step in the plan.
Cisse will play a 4-3-3 formation, knowing he has a vast pool of strong, talented players.
Unlike their opponent, Senegal live on a blend of pace, strength and skill from both the right and left flanks. Sadio Mane is a handful for any defender. The Liverpool striker plundered 20 goals coupled with eight assists this season for the Reds. He has been turning heads in Europe and is among those expected to cause waves in Russia. Keita Balde and Moussa Sow will offer almost as much support as Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah.
Senegal also boast a strong midfield and defence. Chiekhou Kouyate and Idrissa Gueye will shield the defence and take care of the dirty jobs. Kalidou Koulibaly adds the needed depth and experience to the defence alongside Salif Sane, Lamine Gassama and Youssouf Sabaly. The team has the depth to go far. Poland will test their resolve.
Call me African, but I think Senegal have the edge in this game. The last time they played a world cup opener, they sent shock waves around the world. That stays with a country, even when the players belong to a new generation. The Teranga Lions have now stormed Russia with another strong, talented squad.
Expect an interesting game filled with career-threatening tackles, dribbles and goals, but Senegal remain the clear favourite.