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World Cup Group H Preview: Poland, Colombia, Senegal, Japan

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Perhaps the most wide-open group in the entire tournament, Group H is going to be oodles of fun. Of the four teams in the group, only Japan did not get at least one pick to top the group in PST’s writer predictions of the tournament results, and every team was picked to advance through to the knockout round at least once, with only Japan receiving less than two votes to advance.

Colombia: After a promising 3rd place finish in the 2016 Copa America, Colombia barely squeaked into the 2018 World Cup after struggling through a tough CONMEBOL qualification slate. After failing to win in any of its final four qualifying matches, Los Cafeteros have had a weird run-up to the tournament, beating France before a pair of 0-0 draws against Australia and Egypt. Nobody really knows what to expect from Colombia in Russia. READ FULL TEAM PREVIEW

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Senegal: Sadio Mane is a chic pick as one of the top players to watch in the 2018 World Cup, and Senegal has a surprisingly strong young team. The problem is the attacking support behind Mane, and when teams focus on the Liverpool star, they struggle to produce much else. Still, Senegal got a generous group draw without a clear frontrunner, and that could see them into the knockout round. READ FULL TEAM PREVIEW

Japan: The Samurai Blue is a true dark horse of this tournament, but their strong attacking group will work against them. They have decent star power in Borussia Dortmund’s Shinji Kagawa, Leicester City’s Shinji Okazaki, and former AC Milan attacker Keiuske Honda, but the defense is unbelievably suspect. During the run-up to the World Cup, Japan coughed up six goals in three June matches against Ghana, Switzerland, and Paraguay. READ FULL TEAM PREVIEW

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Who’s going through: Poland and Colombia

 [ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

Who’s going home: Senegal and Japan

Marquee match: Colombia vs. Senegal, June 28 in Volgograd

Top 5 players to watch
1) James Rodriguez — Colombia
2) Robert Lewandowski — Poland
3) Sadio Mane — Senegal
4) Shinji Okazaki — Japan
5) Kalidou Koulibaly — Senegal

Germany edges past Saudi Arabia, Poland and Chile draw

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Pre-World Cup international friendlies are coming to a close as teams wrap up their preparation before heading to Russia for the big dance. A number of teams played their final tests before making their way to the host country, and matches on Friday gave us a decent look at where teams are, including a couple of matchups featuring World Cup squads on both sides.

Germany 2-1 Saudi Arabia

Timo Werner scored just eight minutes in as Germany skidded to victory at BayArena in Leverkusen despite the positive showing by World Cup minnows Saudi Arabia. The Germans unlocked the opposition for the opener on a dinked chip over the entire defensive unit by Joshua Kimmich which found Marco Reus on the left-edge of the six-yard box. Reus probably could have scored himself with a well-placed shot, but instead he touched across the face of goal to Werner who poked home from point-blank range off the underside of the bar.

Saudi Arabia had a number of chances in the first half that went begging, and Germany scored a second just before halftime as Omar Othman challenged Thomas Muller for a Werner cross at the doorstep, and it went in off the defender. The underdogs made things interesting late as Saudi Arabia won a penalty with six minutes remaining, and while Marc-Andre ter Stegen saved the spot-kick, the rebound was eventually powered home by Taiseer Al-Jassam.

Poland 2-2 Chile

Robert Lewandowski bagged a goal as Poland drew with Chile in Poznan. The Bayern Munich frontman opened the scoring 30 minutes in as he struck a fine effort from outside the top-left corner of the penalty area. Poland doubled its lead four minutes later as Kamil Grosicki caught the Chilean defensive line way too high, eventually feeding Piotr Zielinski for an easy tap-in on the break.

Chile, however, struck right back with seven minutes to go before halftime via Diego Valdes, and Miiko Albornoz scored the day’s best goal just before the hour mark as he rifled home a long-range missile on the volley.

Switzerland 2-0 Japan

Switzerland scored a goal near the end of each half as they waltzed to a 2-0 victory over Japan in Lugano as they head into the 2018 World Cup on a high. The home side put just two of their 11 total shots on target, but both resulted in goals.

Southampton defender Maya Yoshida conceded a penalty in the 42nd minute after fouling Breel Embolo, and defender Ricardo Rodriguez buried the spot-kick with a confident and powerful strike to open the scoring. Haris Seferovic was the man to finish things off in the 82nd minute, capping a vicious and beautiful counter-attack.

Croatia 2-1 Senegal

Another matchup of two World Cup qualifiers saw Croatia come from a goal down to beat Senegal 2-1 in Osijek. After a scoreless first half that saw the visitors appear to have the advantage, Stade Rennais winger Ismaïla Sarr scored the opener thanks to Wolves midfielder Alfred N'Diaye, who timed Sarr’s run perfectly with a pinpoint long-ball that sailed the entire defense.

Ivan Perisic leveled things back up past the hour mark with a heavily deflected free-kick, and lively halftime substitute Andrej Kramaric grabbed the winner off a broken play with 12 minutes remaining. The Hoffenheim striker hit an ugly, off-balance shot from a tight angle that was blocked easily, but the rebound came right back to him and he struck again, catching Senegal goalkeeper Abdoulaye Diallo off-guard.

Sadio Mane was bright for Senegal, but he clanged a free-kick off the crossbar in the dying minutes of the game, unable to secure an equalizer.

Iran 1-0 Lithuania

Olympiakos striker Karim Ansarifard grabbed the game’s only goal in the 88th minute as Iran heads to the World Cup on a winning note. Ansarifard had a spectacular Greek Super League campaign, scoring 17 goals and grabbing 6 assists in 25 league matches this season.

Lewandowski wants to leave Bayern Munich

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The dude does not abide. The big Lewandowski wants to move on from Bayern Munich.

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According to his agent, Pini Zahavi, Bayern’s top striker Robert Lewandowksi is ready for a fresh challenge and wants to move on from the German champions.

Zahavi told German outlet Sport Bild that his client “feels that he needs a change and a new challenge in his career.”

Lewandowski, 29, has been linked with moves to various Premier League clubs in the past, plus the likes of PSG and Real Madrid. After four years at Bayern where he’s won four German titles and scored 151 goals in 195 games in all competitions, he’s won everything he can apart from the UEFA Champions League.

His current deal at Bayern runs until 2021 but he has obviously been thinking about a move for a while after hiring Zahavi as his new agent in February.

The Polish striker will captain his country at the 2018 World Cup this summer in Group D against Japan, Colombia and Senegal and a few goals and dominant displays of leading the line should do the trick to get his suitors lining up to give him one final payday.

And why wouldn’t they?

Lewandowski is a goal machine and has scored 42, 43 and 41 goals respectively in each of his last three seasons. He has 106 goals in 126 Bundesliga appearances for Bayern and before that he scored 103 goals in 187 games in all competitions for Dortmund. 332 goals in 557 games in all competitions over his career says it all.

Where could he end up?

Chelsea have been linked with Lewandowski for many years and with Alvaro Morata’s poor first season at Stamford Bridge, the Blues may jump at the chance to offload the Spaniard and replace him with the more experienced, and clinical, Lewandowski.

Lewandowski’s aerial ability would be suited to crosses flying in but previous links to the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United may well be out of reach now as Jurgen Klopp has his forward line settled and Jose Mourinho has built his attack around Romelu Lukaku.

Real is a real possibility for Lewandowski, especially after both Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo expressed doubts about remaining at the reigning European champions in the aftermath of their UEFA Champions League final victory over Liverpool at the weekend.

Wherever he goes, Lewandowski will score goals. It really is that simple.

Report: Lewandowski unhappy with playing time at Bayern Munich

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Karl-Heinz Rummenidge may have done his best to quell rumors that Robert Lewandowski could leave Bayern Munich this summer, but the player’s camp may not be ready to give in.

According to a report by ESPNFC, a source close to Lewandowski said the Polish striker is unhappy about the playing time he has received this season.

Lewandowski, who will be 30 around the start of next season, scored a whopping 29 league goals this season as Bayern stormed to yet another monstrous Bundesliga title, but he saw spotty playing time down the stretch.

“Robert’s rhythm was clearly broken,” the ESPN source said. “He played almost every game over the past few years [and] even played with a shoulder injury at Real last year and he scored. He played with a face mask against Barcelona in 2015. He does not have this rhythm in 2018.”

Looking at the numbers, it’s a bit of a dubious complaint. Sure, he was rested for a good portion of the latter stages of the league season – since the turn to the 2018 calendar year, Lewandowski put up just five league 90-minute performances, scoring in four of those, including a pair of hat-tricks – however Bayern cruised to the Bundesliga finish line to win the league by 24 points and manager Jupp Heynckes will have wanted to rest his star striker for a deep Champions League run. Supporting that, Lewandowski played 505 of a possible 540 Champions League minutes in 2018. He also played every minute of their DFB-Pokal crown, grabbing a brace in the win over Bayer Leverkusen in the finals.

“He never told me that he felt he hadn’t played enough,” Heynckes told reporters on Friday to rebuff the reports. “I have repeatedly heard that we had an extremely stressful and intensive fixture list, therefore I gave him regular breaks with the big games in mind. For example, if he didn’t play a game in eight days, that’s a normal rhythm and he wouldn’t lose any playing rhythm.”

Despite his stunning league form, Lewandowski received criticism this season for his Champions League output. While he scored three goals in league play and another pair in a 5-0 win over Besiktas to start the knockout round, he was blanked after that, putting up five straight goose eggs as Bayern was booted in the semifinals by Real Madrid. Through his Bayern career, Lewandowski now has 11 goals in 21 Champions League knockout matches, but he has mostly failed to deliver when the team needs him the most.

Lewandowski’s contract with Bayern Munich runs through the summer of 2021, so any move would either have to be initiated by the club or forced by the player.

Bayern Munich obliterates Dortmund in Der Klassiker (video)

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A Schalke win deprived Bayern Munich of a chance to clinch another Bundesliga title on Saturday, but the Bavarians will be happy to revel in the spoils of a Der Klassiker blowout.

Robert Lewandowski bagged a hat trick in a 6-0 win over Borussia Dortmund at the Allianz Arena.

[ MORE: Man City waltzes past Everton ]

Lewandowski scored in the 5th, 44th, and 87th minutes, and James Rodriguez, Thomas Muller, and Franck Ribery also scored in the big win.

American winger Christian Pulisic suffered through a 39-touch performance in 74 minutes before he was pulled for Maximilian Philip.

Bayern now leads second place Schalke by 17 points. Dortmund is four back of second, and three above fifth-place Bayer Leverkusen and sixth-place Eintracht Frankfurt.