By 90Min
June 18, 2018

Group H is the last of the World Cup groups to get underway on Tuesday, as 2014 quarter finalists Colombia aim to kick-start another successful campaign in their opening game against Japan.

Los Cafeteros played some stylish football on their way to the last eight in Brazil and a charitable group stage draw gives them a good chance of making waves at the World Cup again, particularly if James Rodriguez can replicate his goalscoring form from the last tournament.

Japan are in disarray after sacking manager Vahid Halilhodzic less than two months before the tournament. His replacement, Akira Nishino, has never managed outside of Japan and has had only two friendly matches in which to decide on his best team.

Here's everything you need to know ahead of Tuesday's game in Saransk.

Recent Form

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Colombia - DLWWDD

Having effectively sealed their qualification with time to spare, Colombia limped over the line with three draws and a defeat in their last four games. That complacent form has continued into their tournament preparations.

In five games since qualifying, Colombia have won only two, but one of those was a brilliant comeback win over France in Paris. They haven't scored or conceded since then, drawing 0-0 with Australia and Egypt.

It seems that Colombia only turn it on when they want to. Luckily, motivating themselves for the World Cup shouldn't be a problem.

Japan - LDLLLW

In a word: worrying. Japan have played 12 matches since qualifying for the finals but their recent form has been very poor. A 4-1 home defeat to Asian rivals South Korea in December was the catalyst for a terrible run in which they also lost to Ukraine, Ghana and Switzerland.

They will take heart from a 4-2 victory over Paraguay in their final match before travelling to Russia. It was the Blue Samurai's first win over South American opposition in eight years and may give them hope of a second in quick succession on Tuesday.

Classic Encounter

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Japan 1-4 Colombia (24 June 2014, World Cup)

These two are familiar to each other after meeting in the group stages four years ago. Colombia finished top of Group C with maximum points while Japan finished bottom with one, and this match in Cuiaba demonstrated the gulf in class between the two teams.

Juan Cuadrado gave Jose Pekerman's team the perfect start with a penalty before Japan, who would have gone through with a win, equalised on the stroke of half time through Shinji Okazaki. It was Jackson Martinez who put the game beyond doubt with two classy finishes for Colombia - his first international goals in over a year. 

However, the real moment of class predictably came from Rodriguez, who danced his way through the Japan defence before dinking the ball over Eiji Kawashima. He was on his way to the Golden Boot, and Japan were on their way home.

Team News



Unlike most teams, Colombia only played one friendly in the immediate build-up to the tournament. Jose Pekerman favours a 4-2-3-1 formation and he is unlikely to make wholesale changes to the team that faced Egypt, with Abel Aguilar and Luis Muriel likely to return to the side.

Rodriguez is a slight concern with a calf complaint but Colombia are proceeding on the assumption that he will be fit. Pekerman's squad contains three Premier League players, two of whom - Arsenal's David Ospina and Tottenham's Davinson Sanchez - are among the first names on the team sheet. Brighton winger Jose Izquierdo can add pace as an impact sub.


Akira Nishino seems to have settled on a 4-2-3-1 formation as well, and after finding a winning formula against Paraguay he would be unwise to change his lineup much. Veteran Eiji Kawashima is likely to return in goal to play at his third World Cup, with Keisuke Honda and Yuto Nagatomo also returning to the side.

Nine of Japan's expected starting XI were part of the 2014 World Cup squad, which is a testament to the lack of new talent coming through the ranks. The attacking quartet are all 29 or older and may lack the sprightliness they once had.

Predicted Starting Lineups

Colombia (4-2-3-1): Ospina; Arias, D Sanchez, Mina, Fabra; C Sanchez, Aguilar; Cuadrado, Muriel, Rodriguez; Falcao

Japan (4-2-3-1): Kawashima; G Sakai, Yoshida, Ueda, Nagatomo; Hasebe, Shibasaki; Honda, Kagawa, Inui; Okazaki


Clive Rose/GettyImages

Colombia will not have the element of surprise that they offered in 2014, but they will try to recapture the joyfulness with which they played four years ago. Whether it succeeds or not, they should have too much for the weakest team in the group.

For Japan, qualifying from a weak confederation is no achievement and they clearly lack a strong identity. They have stagnated since reaching the last 16 of the 2010 World Cup and another abject failure in Russia could be the catalyst for a much-needed overhaul.

Most of the opening matches so far have been tight and decided by one or two goals. That should be enough for Colombia too.

Prediction: Colombia 2-0 Japan

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