PRESUMABLY, the opposite of a ‘Group of Death’ is a ‘Group of Life’. On paper, Group H might not immediately leap out as the most exciting of the first-round pools, mainly because of the absence of a truly big name. However, it could easily turn out to be the most closely-matched. Before a ball has been kicked, all four teams can harbour realistic expectations of making the knock-out stage.

Aside from the hosts, Russia, Poland are the weakest of the teams that were ranked as top seeds prior to the draw, although that does not mean that their group opponents – Senegal, Colombia and Japan – can afford to take them lightly. Given that the top two sides from Group H will face a team from England’s group in the first knock-out round, Gareth Southgate’s scouting team will also be paying particularly close attention to how the Poles fare as they look to build on a decent performance at the last European Championships, when they made the last eight.

As ever, they will be reliant on the goalscoring prowess of Robert Lewandowski, who heads into the World Cup on the back of another successful season with Bayern Munich. Lewandowski scored a record 16 goals as Poland cruised through their qualifying pool for Russia, and claimed 41 goals in a Bayern shirt last season.

If his team-mates can carve out the chances, he will almost certainly finish them with aplomb. The problem facing Poland boss Adam Nawalka, though, is that a previously-reliable supply line is beginning to creak.

Grzegorz Krychowiak barely got a kick for a West Brom side that crashed out of the Premier League last season, while Arkadisuz Milik, another established member of Poland’s first-choice starting XI, was similarly under-used at Napoli.

Jakub Blaszczykowski, the most important of Poland’s midfielders, missed most of Wolfsburg’s season through injury, and Nawalka must worry that so many of his side’s key performers are coming into the tournament under-cooked.

Even Wojciech Szczseny spent most of last season on the bench at Juventus, so there is a chance that Poland will be affected by some rustiness in their early games. In such a competitive pool, it will be important to hit the ground running.

Poland open their World Cup campaign in Moscow on Tuesday when they take on Senegal, and will have to be better than they were in their recent friendlies with Nigeria and South Korea. Poland won one and lost one of those games, but were far from impressive.

Senegal look capable of troubling them, and it is something of a surprise that the African nation will be returning to the World Cup stage for the first time since they caused such a stir in Japan and South Korea in 2002. Back then, they beat the reigning champions, France, in the tournament’s opening match, and went on to see off Sweden as they became only the second African nation to make the World Cup quarter-finals.

Senegalese football has been through something of a barren patch since then, but head coach Aliou Cisse can finally call on a crop of players that are a match for the side that did so well 16 years ago.

Sadio Mane is undoubtedly their star man, and the Liverpool striker has been in the form of his life in the last 12 months, helping his club side secure a top-four finish in the Premier League and scoring in the Champions League final.

Mane tends to play in a more central position for Senegal than he does with Liverpool, although Stoke’s Mame Biram Diouf provides an alternative attacking option.

Like Liverpool, Senegal tend to play on the counter-attack, so the quality of their defending will be important. Everton’s Idrissa Gueye provides a screening presence at the base of midfield, and is often accompanied by West Ham’s Cheikhou Kouyate.

Further back, Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly was one of the most consistent centre-halves in Europe last season, and his ability from set-pieces provides another string to Senegal’s attacking bow. The ‘Lions of Teranga’ will certainly be happy that he chose to represent them instead of France.

A lack of major tournament experience could be a factor, but Senegal look to have every chance of making the knock-out stage. Avoiding defeat to Poland will be crucial, with their second group game pitting them against arguably the weakest team in the pool, Japan.

Japan are a regular World Cup presence, but while they have competed at the last five tournaments, they have never progressed beyond the round of 16. In two of the last three World Cups, they have exited at the group stage.

Their chances of improving that record have hardly been helped by some off-field instability, with the experienced coach, Vahid Halihodzic, suffering an abrupt dismissal just two months before the start of the tournament.

He was replaced in April by Akira Nishino amid rumours of player unrest and considerable unease at some disappointing friendly results. The mood in the camp might have improved under Nishino, but has he had enough time to dispel the rot that had set in under Halihodzic?

At least he is willing to pick Japan’s best players, something Halihodzic failed to do when he dropped Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda and Shinji Okazaki for November matches against Brazil and Belgium.

Japan lost both games, and Nishino has concluded that his biggest names have to return. That means the current Japan squad is the oldest the nation has ever sent to a World Cup, with an average age of over 28, but while that might result in a predictable playing style, Nishino will be hoping a wealth of experience proves crucial in what could well prove a series of tight matches.