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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

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

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

2018 World Cup team preview: Japan

AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama
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Getting to know Japan: It’s a sixth-straight appearance for Japan, who has either been terrible or inspiring every other tournament.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

Thrice winless and twice Round of 16 combatants, the Samurai Blue are sound but need to find goals if they want to return to the knockout rounds.

For more history on Japan, click here.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 


What group are they in? Group H. Japan is probably the underdog of the bunch, with Poland, Colombia, and Senegal all capable of claiming top honors

Game schedule – Group H – Full 2018 World Cup schedule, here

Tuesday, June 19: Colombia v Japan, Saransk 8 a.m. ET
Sunday, June 24: Japan v Senegal, Yekaterinburg 11 a.m. ET
Thursday, June 28: Japan v Poland, Volgograd 10 a.m. ET


Projected lineup (4-3-3) – Check out the 23-man squad list in full

—– Kawashima —–

— Sakai — Yoshida — Shoji — Nagatomi

—- Haraguchi —- Hasebe —- Yamaguchi —-

—- Honda —- Osako —- Usami —-


Star player: Maya Yoshida — The Southampton center back underwent a tumultuous season at St. Mary’s, but is one of several experienced Japanese backs in the fold for Russia.


Manager: Akira Nishino – Twelve times capped by Japan, the 63-year-old former Vissel Kobe and Nagoya Grampus Eight boss gets his first chance to shine at a World Cup.


Secret weapon: Shinji Okazaki — It may seem goofy to label a Premier League striker with 50 international goals as Japan’s secret weapon, but Leicester City’s bench spark plug has a similar role at this stage of his career for the Samurai Blue. He’s the third all-time goal scorer in Japanese history, though goals have been few and far between for Okazaki since 2016.


Prediction: Fourth in a very good group.

Leicester City 1-2 Newcastle United: Magpies nearly safe

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  • Newcastle moves into top half
  • Shelvey dummies to open scoring
  • Perez with goal, assist

Jonjo Shelvey and Ayoze Perez scored on either side of halftime to give Newcastle United another three points with a 2-1 win over Leicester City at the King Power Stadium on Saturday.

Jamie Vardy scored late for Leicester, who remains eighth with 43 points.

The Magpies are 10th, ahead of Bournemouth on goal differential and 10 points clear of the drop zone.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The visitors looked good from the start, with Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel needed to stop Ayoze Perez and Dwight Gayle in the first 10 minutes.

The Magpies went ahead through Shelvey, who took a pass from Perez and cooked Harry Maguire en route to the right corner of the goal (with a small turn off a Leicester defender’s arm).

Maguire hit Gayle in the face moments later, but was saved with only a yellow card.

Leicester had a shout for a penalty when Paul Dummett‘s sliding tackle of Riyad Mahrez in the box caused the Algerian to hit the deck, but no whistle arrived for the Foxes.

DeAndre Yedlin was injured making a 72nd minute tackle on Fousseni Diabate.

Perez made it 2-0 with a classy and audacious finish, with Maguire and Wes Morgan allowing Florian Lejeune‘s clearance to hit the turf, and Perez chipping Schmeichel from 30 yards with the outside of his boot. Gorgeous stuff.

Vardy tapped in a Shinji Okazaki knockdown of a delightful Demarai Gray cross with seven minutes to play to make it game on at the King Power.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Leicester City 2-3 Liverpool: Reds hold on to win

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Mohamed Salah, Philippe Coutinho, and Jordan Henderson scored as Liverpool built a pair of two-goal leads before holding on to beat Leicester City 3-2 at King Power Stadium on Saturday.

Shinji Okazaki and Jamie Vardy for Leicester, but Simon Mignolet stopped a Vardy penalty to preserve the three points.

The win moves Liverpool fifth. Leicester sits 16th with four points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Jamie Vardy raced past Liverpool’s backs to trouble Simon Mignolet in the sixth minute, and Riyad Mahrez put the rebound wide of the Reds’ goal.

Liverpool should have gone ahead when Emre Can‘s blast off the post rebound to Mohamed Salah, but the in-form winger missed his point-blank chance in howling fashion.

He turned to the bench and gave a thumbs up, so it’s no surprise that Salah made amends moments later with a back post header of Philippe Coutinho’s cross.

Coutinho scored a beauty of his own in the 23rd minute, as the Brazilian lorded over a free kick before spinning a goal just off the top of the wall and past a flying Kasper Schmeichel.

Okazaki had a goal ruled null when Harry Maguire‘s assist was rightly deemed offside, but made it 2-1 in the third minute of stoppage time. A corner kick bounded off Maguire and a lunging Okazaki beat Mignolet to the loose ball.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Vardy had a shot blocked which turned into a Liverpool counter goal through Henderson, but the English striker restored the deficit to one when he nodded a Demarai Gray rebound past Mignolet in the 69th minute.

And the industrious striker drew a penalty within two minutes when Mignolet missed a clearing attempt and took down Vardy. It wasn’t malicious, but it was a foul in the box.

Mignolet saved it!

Can nearly gave away a second PK with a handball moments later, but the linesman ruled that there was no intent in Can’s arm striking the ball.

AT HALF: Gabbiadini puts Saints up; Foxes lead (video)

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Five Premier League matches are sandwiched between Manchester United’s early demolition of Swansea City and a 12:30 p.m. ET kickoff between Stoke and Arsenal on NBC.

[ STREAM: 10 a.m. ET matches ]

Southampton 2-1 West Ham United

Saints are up a man and a goal after Nathan Redmond found Manolo Gabbiadini for a classy early finish, and Marko Arnautovic was sent off for a needless elbow to the neck of Jack Stephens.

Dusan Tadic converted a penalty on his 100th Premier League appearance, getting his 15th goal following a Jose Fonte foul on Steven Davis. Call it a gift from the longtime Saints defender to his former club.

Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez netted his first West Ham goal when Fraser Forster pushed Michail Antonio‘s left-footed shot onto the path of the Mexican national team star.

Burnley 0-0 West Bromwich Albion

Ben Foster‘s nice save on Johann Berg Gudmundsson keeps it scoreless at the break.

Liverpool 0-0 Crystal Palace

It’s no surprise that the Reds look the better money for a win, but a finish hasn’t come yet.

Bournemouth 0-0 Watford

Not much cooking at the home of the Cherries.

Leicester City 1-0 Brighton and Hove Albion

It took less than a minute for Shinji Okazaki to put the 2015-16 Premier League champions ahead of the newly-promoted Gulls.