World Cup Previews – Group C

Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan

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The Perception

Perhaps one of the easier but most evenly matched groups in the tournament, England will face one of these teams in the Round of 16 if The Three Lions progress.

Fixtures

14 June 2014

Colombia v Greece, Estadio Mineirao, Belo Horizonte, 17:00 (BBC)

15 June 2014

Ivory Coast v Japan, Arena Pernambuco, Recife, 02:00 (ITV)

19 June 2014

Colombia v Ivory Coast, Estadio Nacional, Brasilia, 17:00 (BBC)

19 June 2014

Japan v Greece, Arena das Dunas, Natal, 23:00 (BBC)

24 June 2014

Japan v Colombia, Arena Pantanal, Cuiaba, 21:00 (BBC)

24 June 2014

Greece v Ivory Coast, Estadio Castelao, Fortaleza, 21:00 (BBC)

Colombia

Colombia-13-15-adidas-home-kit-yellow-white-white-line-up

  • World Ranking: 5 (correct to 6 June)
  • World Cup best: Round of 16 (1990)
  • World Cups played in (including 2014): 6 (first in 1962)
  • Manager: Jose Pekermann
  • Captain: Mario Yepes

Star Man – Radamel Falcao

imagen-falcao

Radamel Falcao scored nine times in qualifying and has scored more than 150 goals in five seasons since coming to Europe. He can drift out of games when starved of service, but his predatory instincts are undeniable. The 28 year old made a surprising move to Monaco last summer for a £51 million fee, but tore his anterior cruciate ligament in January and is a major doubt for the World Cup. Colombia’s hopes rest on his fitness. If he does not make it, it paves the way into the knockout stages for another team.

One to Watch – James Rodriguez

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While Radamel Falcao invariably grabs the headlines, it is his Monaco teammate James Rodriguez who makes Colombia tick. The 21 year old has seamlessly adapted to international football since making his debut in 2011 and now has four goals from 21 appearances. The gifted attacking midfielder cost Monaco £37.5 million but was ordered to work harder defensively by boss Claudio Ranieri, before the former Chelsea boss left the club at the end of the season

How they qualified

Fairly comfortably, finishing a close second to Argentina in their South American qualifying group. Their haul of 30 points from 16 games represents their best ever return. Outstanding performances included a 4-0 win at home to Uruguay and a 3-1 win in Chile, plus a gritty goalless draw in Argentina.

Prediction – Round of 16

If Falcao is fit, Colombia should win this group thanks to their deadly attack which also includes rising star Jackson Martinez. But meeting other world superstars in the Round of 16 could send them home. A place in the knockout stages should happen anyway without Falcao, but then that definitely would be the Colombians’ limit.

Greece

  • World Ranking: 10 (correct to 6 June)
  • World Cup best: Group Stages (1994, 2010)
  • World Cups played in (including 2014): 3 (first in 1994)
  • Manager: Fernando Santos
  • Captain: Giorgos Karagounis

Star Man – Konstantinos Mitroglou

Greeces-Mitroglou-goal

Target man Konstantinos Mitroglou has endured a miserable second half to the season at Fulham after a stunning run prior to Christmas. A persistent knee injury has limited the striker to only one Premier League start since joining the Cottagers in January. Before that, he scored three goals in two play-off matches against Romania and a hat-trick for Olympiakos at Anderlecht, making him the first Greek to score a Champions League treble.

One to Watch – Ioannis Fetfatzidis

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Born in the northern town of Drama, Fetfatzidis can leave opposing defenders in the dust with his close control and array of one-on-one moves. His consistency leaves something to be desired, but the Genoa playmaker is the one Greek player who can get neutrals off their seats. The 23 year old’s best position needs to be defined, he loves coming in off the left flank or playing just behind the striker – but with his pace and running with the ball, coming from wide positions looks to be the best option. He could cause defences in Group C some problems.

How they qualified

Greece finished as runners-up to Bosnia-Herzegovina in Group G in European qualifying but were seeded for the play-offs, and beat Romania 4-2 on aggregate, thanks largely to Mitroglou.

Prediction – Group Stages

An early exit is expected and is likely to happen for the Greeks, as they have little in the way of attacking spark. They won’t be pushovers though, and should at least claim a point or two.

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast World Cup team

  • World Ranking: 21 (correct to 6 June)
  • World Cup best: Group Stages (2006, 2010)
  • World Cups played in (including 2014): 3 (first in 2006)
  • Manager: Sabri Lamouchi
  • Captain: Didier Drogba

Star Man – Yaya Toure

yaya-toure-1

Manchester City’s powerhouse midfielder Yaya Toure scored four times in six qualifiers, a tally bettered only by Lille forward Salomon Kalou. On the club seen, he has just finished being City’s star man on the way to claiming the Premier League title and will be one of the most feared players in Brazil. Furthermore, with his future seeming uncertain at the Etihad Stadium, who knows what a good tournament could lead to?

One to Watch – Didier Drogba

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There’s no rule to say that ‘one to watch’ players have to be young! At 36 years of age, Didier Drogba is quite the opposite. This World Cup will certainly be his last, so the former Chelsea man will be determined to end on a high. He is my one to watch because of this. He, out of the all the players in the squad will want to perform to his very best and at his best, Drogba can be deadly and will hurt teams. The Ivory Coast captain also just needs to play once in Brazil to earn his 100th cap for the national side.

How they qualified

Along with Nigeria, they were the only African side to end unbeaten. They easily topped their preliminary group ahead of Morocco before winning a play-off against Senegal 4-2 on aggregate. There were some nervy moments when they trailed 1-0 in the second leg in Casablanca, but Salomon Kalou’s injury time equaliser booked their place in Brazil.

Prediction – Round of 16

Ivory Coast aren’t miles behind Colombia in terms of class, and should progress from this group with little struggle, meaning will see them in the Round of 16 for the first time. But that will be as far as they go, with better teams likely to expose their leaky defence.

Japan

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  • World Ranking: 47 (correct to 6 June)
  • World Cup best: Round of 16 (2002, 2010)
  • World Cups played in (including 2014): 5 (first in 1998)
  • Manager: Alberto Zaccheroni
  • Captain: Makoto Hasebe

Star Man – Keisuke Honda

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Keisuke Honda is Japan’s talisman, with Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki the rising stars alongside him. Attacking midfielder Honda, who joined AC Milan from CSKA Moscow in January, can drag his team-mates to another level if in the mood. The 27 year old caught the eye at the last World Cup, and will one of few Japanese players to do so again in Brazil.

One to Watch – Shinji Okazaki

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Striker Shinji Okazaki had a great season for German club Mainz, becoming the highest-ever scoring Japanese player in Bundesliga history after netting 15 times and was the AFC’s top goalscorer during qualifying for the 2014 finals with eight goals. However the 28 year old has never 100 percent convinced on the biggest of stages, so this summer’s World Cup is a huge tournament for him, with his place in Japan’s starting XI potentially at stake.

How they qualified

Japan were the first country to qualify for the 2014 finals, doing so in early June 2013. They achieved the most points (17) and top scored (16 goals) in Asia’s final qualifying group stage in which they only lost once.

Prediction – Group Stages

Despite looking easy on paper, this group presents a challenge for Japan. On their day they can beat anyone, but could suffer with the conditions in Brazil. Their biggest game will be their opening one – when they take on Ivory Coast in Recife.

My final table prediction

Group C

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