Although some might consider Group C to be the weakest among the eight in the 2014 World Cup, it is also one of the most difficult to predict with a wide open race for the two qualifying spots, as the Ivory Coast, Colombia and Japan hold the promise of some very exciting football, while Greece will be there as usual to spoil it for everyone.
An interesting feature of this group is their lack of previous success: Both Greece and the Ivory Coast have never been past the group stage in the World Cup, while both Colombia and Japan have never been able to actually venture very far over the years.
The round of 16 has so far been a barrier for Japan they haven’t been able to pass. With a very talented team that is also quite easy on the eyes most of the time, anything less is going to be very disappointing for Alberto Zaccheroni and his players. Most of the expectations are on the creative trio of Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda and Yoichiro Kakitani, who serves more of a second striker, playing behind the fantastic Shinji Okazaki.
A very fast and dynamic side, they often lose when it comes to physical confrontation, making their opening match against the Ivory Coast probably the key to their whole qualifying attempt. Japan have two very good attacking full backs in Nagatomo and Atsuto Uchida and it’s probably going to be their ability that makes the difference between a side that just moves the ball well and actually dominating this group, which is completely possible for them.
This team is all about attack, even without Falcao who won’t be in the World Cup. Colombia had a brilliant qualifying campaign, finishing second behind Argentina. They have the likes of Carlos Bacca and Jackson Martinez to lead their attack, while James Rodriguez, Juan Cuadrado and Fredy Guarin provide an excellent midfield behind. However, looking at their defense, doubts start to rise.
Not just the quality, but the depth. Mario Yepes is 38; Cristian Zapata is often far less than reliable. Colombia don’t have much behind them. If this team goes all-out attack in their group matches they’ll be easily exposed. Defense is a team thing, not just four players and a goalkeeper. The ability of Guarin and Abel Aguilar to balance between defense and attack might be the key to making it into the round of 16.
Plenty of attacking talent, and no defense. Didier Drogba and Wilfried Bony should be very difficult to handle, while there’s plenty of talent on the wings with Salomon Kalou and Gervinho. Yaya Toure is one of the best midfielders in the world. In short – the attack, backed by Chieck Tiote and the again Didier Zokora, is in excellent shape. But in these tournaments, it’s often about what the defense has to offer.
The Ivory Coast love to press high and take advantage of their physical superiority not just because it’s a strength, but it also takes away from exposing their defense. Teams that can do well to handle the early pressure against Les Éléphants will find it quite easy to create chances against the likes of Kolo Toure and Sol Bamba, making a very non intimidating defensive pair at centre back.
Even though Fernando Santos has tried changing the sluggish and defensive style, there isn’t enough technical ability among Greek midfielders to succeed in such a transformation. So we see a simply younger version of the same Greece team that made the World Cup in 2010 and the last three Euro tournaments, with Kostas Mitroglou in the front while Giorgos Karagounis remains the heat of this team.
Defense is their strongest suit, conceding only four goals through the 10 qualifying matches: The pair of Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Sokratis Papastathopoulos is excellent in the air and physically imposing. The problem will be finding goals not through set pieces and gaining any sort of possession. Greece are never a team the neutrals adore, but will be difficult to beat regardless.