This preview is the final in our World Cup preview series, designed to provide a refreshing breath of Minnesotan air in an otherwise murky swamp of content. To encapsulate that oh-so-true concept of Minnesota nice, we’re looking for the most likeable teams in Russia 2018. To check out looks at other groups, head to our preview hub: https://www.epluribusloonum.com/2018/6/11/17449884/a-2018-world-cup-preview-but-minnesota-style-russia
After established themselves as future powerhouses at Brazil 2014, Colombia will look to extend their reputation in their next big test. Star midfielder James Rodriguez has now made a name for himself in Europe with a high-profile loan to Bayern Munich from parent club Real Madrid, but he’ll need to perform at his best for his country to be successful. Like several other nations, Colombia is a team of solid players who aren’t well-known due to the status of their clubs. Can the Colombians prove that 2014 wasn’t a fluke? They’re primed to do so.
The Japanese have a decent mix of domestic stars and players in foreign leagues, though there is a different tone to some of the latter. Where teams had previously recruited Japanese talent as a marketing ploy, they now tap the country for new stars. Japanese players now appear for teams as diverse as Leicester City, Dortmund, Eibar, and Pachuca. There are still some defensive question marks around the team’s philosophy, but they still should put in a decent showing in Russia.
Senegal joined South Korea as a surprise team in 2002, making a quarter-final run, but haven’t made it to a World Cup since. Their big name is Liverpool’s Sadio Mane, and Senegal will be dependent on his health to get them through the tournament. Their coach, Aliou Cizze, was the captain of that 2002 team. He’ll be looking to channel his past successes into the current crop of players, who aren’t as far off as many would think.
In a tournament field that holds plenty of “the new,” Poland comes off as rather outdated. They’ll compete with Colombia at the top of the group and should have no issue moving past Japan and Senegal, but this tournament may be one of the last with the current group in its prime. Not the most exciting team, and thus not the most likeable.