Group C is a group of competition, challenges and contenders. A stable of four teams who have not tasted glory in a World Cup. The inbetweeners.
Midcarders, as one would say in sport entertainment terms. None of these teams will have to face one of the big guns and powerhouse football nations. Will one of these teams showcase their potential in an otherwise very open group?
Colombia has shown massive potential in qualifying and has experience a renaissance in footballing terms, while Ivory Coast will be looking to finally progress to the knockout stages after the third time of asking. Japan and Greece round out the group with both strong contenders for a last 16 spot.
A mix of experience, youth and Falcao for Los Cafeteros
Colombia’s team name Los Cafeteros, translates to “The Coffee Makers”. Coffee is known as a rich, flavourful drink grown in Colombia, and is one of the country’s favourite drinks.
It is apt that the national football team has this connection as their football has been as sound and refreshing an exquisite Colombian coffee in the afternoon. Rich, rewarding and reassuring. Colombian football is on the rise under Argentinean journeyman, Jose Pekerman. The manager has developed a defensive winning mentality which saw Colombia concede the least amount of goals (13) during the Comnebol qualifying campaign.
Mario Yepes and Luis Perea is the cornerstone of defence and are rock solid. Age does not seem to be a problem for Yepes, who at 38 is still regarded as one of the world most underrated defenders. His time at PSG and AC Milan will suit him well on the World biggest stage. A deserved first appearance for one of Colombia’s greatest defenders.
One of the major problems for Colombia is the injury doubt over their star striker Rademel Falcao. The striker is indispensible to Colombia’s chances of progressing further in the competition, and Colombians will be praying for a miracle ahead of the tournament.
Luckily Colombia’s has got some excellent back up to try to fill the gaping void. James Rodriguez is a young talent who is a creator in the midfield. Expect him and fellow midfielder Fredy Guarin to pull the strings. Another striker to look out for will be Teofilo Guitierrez, who plays his football for River Plate in Argentina.
Expect Colombia to finish first or a close second in the group behind the Ivory Coast.
Mario Yepes (Defender)
Matches Played (goals scored): 94 (6)
James Rodriguez (Midfielder)
Matches Played (goals scored): 20 (3)
Luis Amaranto Perea (Defender)
Matches Played (goals scored): 74 (0)
Club: Cruz Azul
Third time lucky for the Elephants?
Ivory has dominated African football for nearly a decade, but still has no trophies to show for it. The perennial bridesmaids of African football (always coming second) are touted to be the best on the continent, but always fail to deliver in the crunch matches.
Star players such as Yaya Toure, his brother Kolo, Didier Drogba and Solomon Kalou will have to perform at their very best if they want to achieve any level of success for a continent and country that is starving for some international recognition and silverware.
The Elephants seem poised to go through to the knockout rounds for the first time as they are in a relatively open group. This may also be the last chance for Didier Drogba to shine in a World Cup, having disappointed at the 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cup respectively. The 35 year old veteran has achieved club success with Chelsea and needs to perform on the international stage.
Yaya Toure is in white hot form for Manchester City and seems to find the back of the net at will from long range and from his devastating free kicks. Another player to keep an eye out for will be midfielder Cheick Tiote, who can dazzle from long range. Furthermore, the Ivory Coast can rely on a wealth of players who ply their trade in the big league overseas, especially in the French League One, which is a birthplace for African talent.
Expect the class of 2014 to cause an upset or two during the World Cup.
Didier Drogba (Striker)
Matches Played (goals scored): 98 (16)
Yaya Toure (Midfielder)
Matches Played (goals scored): 82 (16)
Club: Manchester City
Matches Played (goals scored): 52 (13)
Club: AS Roma
Men or boys from the land of the rising sun?
Japan is a hotbed of footballing talent. Quick, skilled but one thing that the Japanese lack is aggression and size. They have heart, but they will need an injection of adrenalin to produce a pulsating performance to progress in the tournament.
In coach, Alberto Zaccheroni, they have a Italian who focuses on defence, something that Japan has lacked over the years. There are still problems as they lost to Belarus in friendly matches, which led to calls for Zaccheroni to be sacked. They did manage to beat Belgium in a pre World Cup friendly which has elevated their chances of an upset or two during the World Cup.
Their star player is undoubtedly Shinji Kagawa, who is yet to find his feet in the Premier League with Manchester United. Japan’s darling follows in the footsteps of former prodigal talents such as Shinsuke Nakamura and Hidetoshi Nakata. The question is whether he can inspire Japan to success alongside captain, Makoto Hasebe. Bleach haired striker Keisuke Honda, who plays for AC Milan, is their key man in front of goal in partnership with Shinji Okazaki.
Japan’s blue army of fans will also expect nothing less and will be waiting in anticipation for the World Cup to begin for which their team qualified first. Japan will entertain but may ultimately draw the short end of the straw, amid impressive performances. The young team will see the tournament as a graduation phase. It will be interesting to see whether they can develop from students to masters of their own fate.
Matches Played (goals scored): 72 (36)
Club: FC Mainz
Matches Played (goals scored): 52 (20)
Club: AC Milan
Matches Played (goals scored): 53 (16)
Club: Manchester United
Is The Pirate Ship ready to fire or will they walk the plank?
The Greeks have long rode the coat tails of their unexpected and celebrated Euro 2004 triumph. No other team has since achieved such an underdog victory in such a resolute fashion with an emphasis on timid football with only victory in mind. No flash, no style no samba football.
Fans might not warm to their style of play, but one can’t argue that it does not deliver results. Greece has qualified for the past 3 international tournaments without mach fuss. They qualified for Brazil by finishing second in their group behind Bosnia-Herzigovina, and then defeating rivals Romania 4-2 on aggregate thanks to star striker Kostas Mitrouglou. The man has an eye for goal, as powerful as Medusa. His powerful shooting seems to render the opposition’s goalkeeper to stone.
The anchor of the Greek ship is captain and mythical journeyman, Giorgos Karagounis. The 36 year old was a part of the Euro 2004 squad and is the main reason why Greece has become competitive over the past decade. The most capped player in the history of the team has an amazing work ethic and has a penchant for long range rockets that burst the net.
The Pirate Ship as the team is known will also count on pirates Giorgios Samaras and Dimitris Salpingidis to rub the salt in the opposition’s wounds with swift counter-attacks. One thing that the Greeks can count on is their aerial prowess and their physical nature which will come in handy against smaller built nations such as, Japan.
Expect Greece difficult to break down but the shackles to come off when they go a goal down. Their lack of imagination and creativity may see them finish last in the group.
Dimitris Salpingidis (Striker)
Matches Played (goals scored): 72 (13)
Kostas Mitrouglou (Striker)
Matches Played (goals scored): 28 (8)
Giorgos Karagounis (Midfielder)
Matches Played (goals scored): 131 (10)