Group C: Colombia, Greece, Cote d’Ivoire and Japan.
Considered one of the weaker groups in Brazil, Group C is one of only three groups to represent four separate confederations. However at closer glance the group throws up more questions than most, and could be considered the most intriguing. There is no clear leader of the group making all matches crucial.
Purely from a football viewpoint, this group offers a tapestry of styles played throughout the world and will present something for all fans. Colombia and Cote d’Ivoire provide a highly attacking presence, while Greece will prove very hard to break down defensively. Japan will be heavily reliant on their organised midfield under the watchful eye of Alberto Zaccheroni. All four nations enter the tournament on an equal footing and will play without fear or trepidation.
Colombia appear the standout of the group, but have been cruelled by the injury to star Radamel Falcao who scored nine goals in qualifying, third only to Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. Returning to the world stage for the first time since 1998 after some close calls in the CONMEBOL region, Colombia will be looking to make up for lost time. Pressure will be high for the technically gifted Colombians who look to get out of the group stage for the first time since 1990.
Greece and Cote d’Ivorie are looking to create history by making it past the group stage for the first time while Asian champions Japan will be looking to make the final 16 for the third time. Greece is looking to atone their disappointing 2010 campaign; coincidentally facing opponents from Asia, Africa and South America once again.
All six matches are crucial in this group, but it’s the opening Colombia v Greece game that whets the appetite most. The interest stems from anticipating the dour defence of Greece standing up to the attacking free-flowing style of Colombia. Greece only conceded four goals in 10 games during qualifying and an avenue to goal will be tough to find.
The opening game should provide some insight into the mindset of both coaches, and an understanding of where the group is headed. The third match involving Greece will also prove critical to their changes when they clash with Cote d’Ivorie. If results go as expected this match will prove critical to which team advances in the tournament. None of the four teams have ever met during a world cup so no matter what the outcome, history will be made.
Colombia will rely on playmaker James Rodriguez who currently plies his trade at Monaco. In his first season he managed to lead Ligue 1 with 12 assists alongside the likes of the injured Falcao. Colombia will rely heavily on the 22-year-old and his attacking presence around the box.
Jackson Martinez will need to add to his eight international goals if Colombia are to see any action beyond the first round. Expect the two to link up throughout and provide major defensive headaches for their three opponents.
Giorgos Karagounis is the inspirational captain of Greece but at 37 Brazil will most likely be his final international tournament. Finding himself without a club after being released from relegated Fulham the veteran of 134 caps won’t play every minute in Brazil but will be the most influential player of the squad. Whether Karagounis is on or off the pitch the hopes of Greece will be more prevalent with his level of determination. Karagounis proved the inspiration towards the 2004 Euro Cup success, and will be looked to produce 10 years on.
The chances of Cote d’Ivorie qualifying will be largely dependent on their ability to play 90 minutes of mistake free football. Many believe this is the last chance for the immensely talented generation of footballers to make history. If Yaya Toure can play lynchpin to the talents of Didier Drogba, Wilfried Bony and Solomon Kalou The Elephants could be on the road to world cup history.
Shinji Kagawa didn’t achieve his best season under David Moyes at Manchester United but still remains Japan’s brightest star. A round of 16 result is achievable, but Kagawa will need to provide some of his best international football. The 25-year-old scored recently against Costa Rica in a 3-1 win.
Expect Colombia and Cote d’Ivorie to progress to the next stage, but not before a hard fought contest to escape a very even group. Moments of brilliance, combined with the bulk of the goal opportunities should see Colombia top the group. A final game win against Greece will be enough for Cote d’Ivorie. The crossover group will be tough for both nations potentially coming up against England, Italy or Uruguay. The round of 16 will most probably be the limit for group C.
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