Saturday, June 14, 2014 10:52 am
Among the eight groups at the 2014 World Cup, Group C comprising Colombia, Cote D’Ivoire, Greece and Japan is the one in which all four nations can genuinely fancy their prospects of qualifying for the second round and based on that, Group C should be the group to watch.
The equality of the teams was made even more prominent after injury ruled out AS Monaco striker Radamel Falcao from Colombia’s World Cup squad and though it represents a huge blow, it could prove a blessing in disguise for Colombia… at least in the group stage.
Falcao’s injury means more of Jackson Martinez, Carlos Bacca or Adrian Ramos would be seen after all three strikers finished the club season as their respective club’s top scorer. Along with midfielders James Rodriguez, Juan Quintero and Fredy Guarin, the Colombians make for an enterprising attacking threat to the other teams.
Greece on their part are the direct opposite of Colombia, relying largely on sitting back and waiting to hit the opposition on the counter and come away with a good result.
Such is the manner the Greeks shocked the continent to become European champions in 2004 and, after a lull, complete an impressive campaign qualification to reach the World Cup in Brazil albeit via the play-offs against Romania.
But after a seven-match winning streak; conceding just a goal in that run late last year, the Greeks have failed to score in their last three matches and have not won any of their last four matches in the run-in to the World Cup due to a lack of cutting edge in recent times.
That cutting edge used to come from striker Konstantinos Mitroglu, who was hampered by injuries since joining Fulham from Olympiakos in January and has been unable to rekindle his form of late last year as a result. Mitroglu’s lack of match fitness could prove costly for the Greeks.
A cutting edge is not the problem for an exciting Cote D’Ivoire squad comprising Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure, former Chelsea striker Didier Drogba, Lille’s Salomon Kalou, Gervinho who had a stellar season with AS Roma and Swansea top scorer Wilfred Bony.
But the Ivorians tend to choke at crucial stages, losing in the 2012 Nations Cup final when the odds heavily favoured them before losing to eventual champions Nigeria at the 2013 Nations Cup quarterfinal after breezing through the group stage.
The Ivorians would fancy their in Brazil nonetheless, but it would be interesting to see if they can match the similar prowess of the Colombians and break down the compact set-up of the Greeks.
Most interesting of all however would be how the aforementioned trio fare against a deceptively weak Japan side led by veteran Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni.
The Asians are almost always not reckoned with enough in major competitions and that perception goes some way in helping Japan each time, as it did during the group stage at the 2010 World Cup on their way to finishing second behind Netherlands in a group that also comprised Denmark and .
The Japanese are not imposing physically but their athleticism makes them very mobile and helped them to impressive results over the Netherlands and Belgium earlier this year, overcoming the highly fancied Belgians after playing out a 2-2 draw with the Dutch.
With midfielders Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda leading a team comprising the likes of Schalke’s Atsuto Uchida, Yuto Nagatomo of Inter Milan, Southampton’s Maya Yoshida and experienced striker Shinji Okazaki, Japan may well make it to the second round as they did in 2010.
Main Players to Watch
The entire Japan team should be watched owing to their work ethic in every match. But without doubt, eyes would be on Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa who forms a creative midfield partnership with AC Milan’s Keisuke Honda. How far Japan go would greatly depend on this duo.
Yaya Toure undoubtedly is the midfielder of this group. Following another stellar season at Manchester City, the tireless and younger of the Toure brothers is primed to be Cote D’Ivoire’s heartbeat at Brazil along with striker Didier Drogba.
The Greeks can count on the experience of midfielder Giorgos Karagounis, defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos and strikers Giorgios Samaras and Theofilas Gekas, but what Kostas Mitroglu brings to the team is the cutting edge in front of goal, which they would sooner or later need.
And with Falcao out, Jackson Martinez and Carlos Bacca are the prominent names one would expect to try filing the void left by the Monaco striker. Instead, Teofilo Gutierrez could be that striker who comes good for Colombia having impressed greatly in World Cup qualifying.
A side eye should be kept on Falcao’s club mate James Rodriguez to create chances, as well as young midfielder Juan Quintero who has shown good potential in the run-up to the World Cup and could make an impact in Brazil.
The Colombians can hold their own on a good day, evident in beating the Netherlands in a friendly, being forced to a draw by World Cup hosts Brazil in another friendly and mostly from their qualifying campaign where they finished second behind Argentina.
The psychological edge they lost with Falcao’s injury absence however means the other nations have about same chance to qualify from Group C now and it would be fine margins that decides the two teams that would eventually progress from the group.