THE fact that none of these teams have ever met in a World Cup tells you all you need to know. Group C is arguably one of the most open and difficult sections to predict.
A quartet of Colombia, Ivory Coast, Japan and Greece covers just about every continental style going and it will be intriguing to see who progresses past the first round from the flair of Colombia to the athleticism of Ivory Coast and more industrious outfits of Japan and Greece.
Despite a 16-year absence from the tournament, Colombia are the group’s seeds and will be favourites to advance, while Japan come into the tournament as Asian champions. But such is the nature of this group, it would hardly be a sensation if Ivory Coast, Greece – or both – ended up making it through.
Interestingly, none of these four teams have ever been beyond the Round of 16 at a World Cup, and only Colombia and Japan have successfully negotiated the group phase.
The fitness of Radamel Falcao has dominated Colombia’s World Cup buildup, but despite hopes the striker would be fit to play his part in Brazil, coach Jose Peckerman revealed earlier this week that the tournament had come to early for Monaco front man, who suffered knee ligament damage in January.
Without ‘El Tigre’, Colombia still boast a strong attacking line-up including Porto’s highly-rated Jackson Martinez, Teo Gutierrez and Carlos Bacca, while they also have strong foundations in defensive trio Luis Perea, Mario Yepes and AC Milan’s Christian Zapata.
They have put professionalism problems behind under Pekermen and despite their lack of appearances in the last two decades Colombia qualified with relative ease, only two points behind the much-fancied Argentina. They aren’t the only team to book their spot in style, though, with Ivory Coast coming through qualification unbeaten. They have lost just three matches out of 41 since the last World Cup and find themselves with a far bigger opportunity to reach the knock-out stages than in their two previous appearances.
In 2006 and 2010, they were in dreaded groups of death, but there is a sense they can do better in what will be the final tournament for many of Les Elephants ‘golden generation’, including former Chelsea striker Didier Drogba.
Their main threat is Yaya Toure and he heads into the tournament on the back of a mouth-watering season which saw him lift the Premier League with Manchester City. Add in a revitalised Gervinho and Ivory Coast have an abundance of attacking skill that is more than capable of winning games. The only question is over a notoriously shaky backline.
It’s hard to predict which Greece will show up. They finished second to Bosnia and Herzegovina in European qualifying with a number of underwhelming perfor mances but in their play-off with Romania they went for it and were rewarded.
As was evident in their shock Euro 2004 win, Greece have an undeniable team spirit and work ethic that will prove difficult to beat, but they lack the quality of other teams in this group.
Like Greece, Japan will be difficult to beat and they have continued to evolve since missing out on the quarter-finals in 2010. They qualified comfortably and have won the Asian Cup so preparation has been promising.
Few teams will outdo Japan in terms of possession and they have attacking trio Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki to create chances, but against the athleticism and flair of Ivory Coast and Colombia, they will be susceptible at the back, particularly from set pieces.