After having been drawn in the group of death for two editions in a row, Cote d’Ivoire will be delighted to be pitted against the likes of Columbia, Greece and Japan in Group C this World Cup.
The Group C may not have the regular big names but if there was ever a Group of Uncertainty, then this would be it. Columbia, presently ranked 4th by FIFA in the world, has probably been less talked about as compared to Uruguay or Chile in the lead upto the tournament, but their qualification campaign has been nothing short of extra-ordinary. La Tricolor, under Argentine manager Jose Pekerman, finished behind Argentina from CONMEBOL having conceded fewer goals than any other team from the group.
After a stuttering start to their qualification campaign under previous manager Leonel Alvarez, Pekerman has transformed them into a formidable outfit which can surprise the best teams on their day. Radamel Falcao, responsible for scoring half of their goals during the qualification stages, is a major doubt but such are the options available for Pekerman, that prolific Porto frontman Jackson Martinez will likely team up with River Plate’s Toefilo Gutierrez in case Falcao fails to recover in time.
World Cup 2014 would be Didier Drogba’s international swansong and he would be desperate to end this on a memorable note. Chelsea have struggled to replace the Ivorian since his departure back in 2012, the year they won the coveted Champions League with a stellar performance from the striker. With Yaya Toure in the midfield, Ivory Coast have someone who has had a terrific season with the English champions Manchester City and possibly, the top performer for the club. The impact that he has on the side becomes obvious when he is missing from the team; City losing their pace in early January, 2013 was no mystery but Toure’s unavailability due to African Cup of Nations. Ivory Coast realize they have probably their best chance to make past the group stages in close to a decade and if Toure carries his club form into the tournament, they have a good chance of achieving that.
Representing Europe in this group are Euro 2004 champions Greece, currently ranked 17th in the world by FIFA. Purely in terms of the squad strength, the Greeks would possibly not be favorites to proceed further from this group but To Piratiko have always proved to be a tougher team to break down than many others. Having conceded just 4 goals in their entire qualification campaign, Fernando Santos’ men have the second best defensive record in Europe only after reigning champions Spain. Greece had to win over Romania, 4-2, in the play-off to confirm their participation in the World Cup finals after finishing second in the group behind Bosnia. Although most experts would rule out the Greeks, but most teams would be wary of them being full aware of their giant-killing potential.
Japan are the lowest ranked team in the group but can be a real handful for the rest if they play to their potential like they have in the qualifications stages becoming the first nation to confirm their tickets to Brazil this summer. The Asian champions have struggled to show up in the big stage, evident in the way they were humbled in the Confederations Cup last year. However, they have players who ply their trade in top European clubs viz. Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa, Okazaki. And that is the best thing about this group, almost every team can make it to the pre-quarters.
Big Matches in the Group
Japan vs Ivory Coast – Columbia remain the bookies’ favorite to top the group and many expect them to make it much beyond the group stages if Falcao recovers in time for the finals. Japan and Ivory Coast will have to decide among themselves as to finishes behind the Tricolor. Considering Greece can spring a surprise themselves on their day, it is imperative for both the teams to get off to a winning start when they meet each other.
Read more about Japan and their chances in this World Cup
Columbia vs Greece – Strikers win you matches, defenders win you tournaments. The World Cup finals won’t be any different as Greece will once again look to defend their way past the group stages and their biggest test would be against the prolific Columbians. The former European champions have a reputation of upping the ante against better teams and they would be desperate to stage an upset against the South American nation.
Players to watch out for
James Rodriguez – The 22 year old winger will probably have his task cut out in Falcao’s absence and the Monaco youngster has proved that he is ready for the big stage. The former Porto FC midfielder completed his multi-million euro move to French giants Monaco last summer and has been instrumental for them, helping the club to a second place finish in Ligue 1.
Yaya Toure – The 30year old midfielder would definitely feature in a list of top central midfielders in the world given his form over the last few years for his club and nation. Toure is one of the finest box to box midfielders that there is, terrific at protecting his defense and even more at making those surges forward. The Ivorians would be hoping to see his best from next month.
Columbia – 7 points
Ivory Coast -5 points
Japan -2 points
Greece – 1 points
Read about the other groups here!