As the days until the 2014 World Cup continue to roll off, its upwards and onwards with our Group previews here at footyblog, as today we bring you our all-inclusive preview of Group C, an interesting one to say the least featuring Colombia without Radamel Falcao, Greece, the Ivory Coast, and Japan.
Group C brings together 4 nations with limited World Cup success who all hope to reach virgin territory in this year’s edition. At the time of the draw, Colombia were considered the landslide favorites to win the group, but since having star striker and Monaco man Radamel Falcao ruled out due to injury, the group has opened up for any of the 4 sides to advance. Still, questions linger for each of the 4 nations involved: Can Colombia overcome the Falcao crisis? Will Greece have enough offense to carry them into the knockout rounds? Can the Ivory Coast provide Didier Drogba one last memorable moment despite their hit and miss midfield? And can Japan finally play to their potential away from home soil? Group C finds many questions with few answers as the tournament rapidly approaches.
Colombia’s hopes of a deep World Cup run were certainly dashed with Falcao’s injury, yet Los Cafeteros still may have enough to advance to the next stage. Led now by Inter Milan midfielder Fredy Guarin, the Colombians will need to get something out of a strike force that has up to this point been dominated by the now absent Falcao. Jackson Martinez of Porto will now have to turn goal-poacher in Brazil if his nation is to equal the scoring exploits of fellow group C contenders Japan and the Ivory Coast, while in the back, captain Mario Yepes of Atalanta will try to hold together a relatively decent back four which includes West Ham’s Pablo Armero. In the end, Colombia’s relative inexperience (only 4 players above 50 Caps) and lack of offensive punch should see them go from dark horse contenders to early casualties.
Prediction: 3rd in Group – 3 PTS
The Greeks head into Brazil on the heels of making the tournament via a playoff victory over Romania, 4-2 on aggregate. That followed a rather successful qualification campaign that saw them top their qualifying group alongside Bosnia-Herzegovina, only needing to complete the playoff due to a vastly inferior goal differential. Midfield veteran Giorgos Karagounis of Fulham yet again captains this experienced Greek side, who will look to improve on their dismal performance in South Africa, as they were ousted in the group stage after winning just 1 match. Their defense as always should be a tight knit unit with 5 Olympiacos defenders in the 23 man squad, although Roma’s Vasilis Torosidis will be the leader of the back line. However good their defense is, the Greeks struggle when it comes to goal scoring, notching 2 scoreless draws in pre-World Cup friendlies before only scoring 2 against a putrid Bolivian team. Forward wise, they are in a similar situation to Mexico and their “Chicharito” problem when it comes to Celtic’s Giorgos Samaras, who is always in the squad without ever producing much. PAOK’s Dimitris Salpingidis will thus be relied upon as the main goal threat for Greece. Their defense should hold firm for the most part, but if they can’t finish up front, then the Greeks will go home early.
Prediction: 4th in Group – 1 PTS
The Ivory Coast will be thankful of this fortunate draw in Brazil following their horror match-up 4 years ago, when they were drawn against both Brazil and Portugal. This kinder group should provide them with ample opportunity to display the raw skill and talent that we all know they have, yet has never materialized for them at major competitions. Didier Drogba returns as their talismanic striker for perhaps his final major competition and I feel that he may have a truly special tournament within him. To compliment the Galatasaray man, Roma forward Gervinho and Lille’s Salomon Kalou will bring experience to the Ivory Coast’s front line while goalkeeper Boubacar Barry is set to collect Cap #80 in Brazil. Their defense should also be a top-notch outfit with Liverpool’s Kolo Toure expected to overcome a bout of malaria in time for the tournament. Didier Zokora of Turkey’s Trabzonspor will also aid in the back as Kolo’s heralded brother Yaya will star in the midfield. As has been the case so often in recent tournaments, all the pieces are there for the Ivory Coast to make a deep run, the only question is whether or not the team cohesion is there for the team to play as well in reality as they can in FIFA 14. I think they can, and I think Drogba inspires them to a surprising run in Brazil.
Prediction: 2nd in Group – 5 PTS
While we’re on the topic of national sides poised to break out in Brazil, I raise the issue of Japan and whether or not Alberto Zaccheroni’s side can finally break out at a World Cup. Sure, they’ve made the Round of 16 twice (2002 and 2010), but this Japanese side has ambitions greater than that, and with an absolutely stacked roster that consists of Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa, Milan’s Keisuke Honda, and the Nurnberg pair of captain Makoto Hasebe and Hiroshi Kiyotake, they have the talent to go further than any prior Japanese side. Following that superb lineup in midfield, Shinji Okazaki will be relied upon to put away chances in a striker role as the German-based Mainz 05 man already has 38 national team goals to his name in just a mere 73 appearances, quite the efficient strike rate. That leaves Japan’s defense as their only potential weakness, although the J-League product Yasuyuki Konno should sure things up in front of ‘keeper Eiji Kawashima. Add to all this the added motivation that Japan have following their poor Confederations Cup performance last year, and this Japanese squad could be dark horses in about a week’s time.
Prediction: 1st in Group – 7 PTS
Japan – 7 PTS
Ivory Coast – 5 PTS
Colombia – 3 PTS
Greece – 1 PTS
(Credit to ESPN and Brazilian graphic artist Cristiano Siqueira for the seriously awesome posters)