World Cup Group C Preview
By Matt Rogers
Group C is arguably the most open in this year’s World Cup as every team will believe they can reach the second round. With each team representing a different continent, they will be showcasing contrasting styles of football making for some fascinating match-ups. Colombia are the group’s seeds, Japan are reigning Asian Champions but one would not be surprised if Greece and the Ivory Coast progressed.
Colombia are favourites to progress from Group C. Despite losing star-striker Radamel Falcao to injury, there is still an abundance of exciting and attacking talent for Peckerman to choose from. Carlos Bacca, Jackson Martinez, James Rodriguez and Fiorentina talent Juan Cuadrado will prove a handful for any team.
Qualifying with ease behind Argentina in their World Cup Qualifying campaign Colombia arrive in solid form. Beating Belgium away in November 2013 was a notable scalp and a confident 3-0 warm-up victory over Jordan will have the Los Cafeteros fans arriving in Brazil feeling confident they can progress beyond the last 16 for the first time in their history.
Greece perhaps have the toughest task of progressing but can draw confidence from an impressive qualifying campaign (finishing level on points with Bosnia-Herzegovina) and a convincing playoff victory over Romania.
Greece’s strengths lie in their defence with only four goals conceded in the ten games during qualifying. 36 year old captain Giorgos Karagounis is likely to be the main playmaker at the heart of the midfield with the main attacking threat coming from Fulham striker Konstantinos Mitroglou who scored three of the four goals in Greece’s 4-2 playoff victory over Romania.
The Blue Samurai will be confident of progressing from Group C under Italian legend Alberto Zaccheroni as they look to reach the Last 16 for the third time. Japan was the first team to qualify for the WC after finishing four points clear of Australia in their group.
Mainz striker Shinji Okasaki was the top scorer in qualifying with eight goals and with the support of global stars Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda, he will be confident of scoring in Brail. Japan was praised for their attacking style in the Confederations Cup last year and despite finishing without a point a similar approach in the WC should bode well.
Pokemon character Pikachu is Japan’s official mascot for the World Cup, so Japan will obviously be hoping to produce some electrifying performances.
Les Elephants have an array of powerful and pacey talent at their disposal but have perhaps underachieved when it really matters. With Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba and plenty of players with experience in Europe’s top leagues, it is hard to believe the national team haven’t won the African Cup of Nations since 1992.
This year they will fancy their chances of surpassing their best WC performance of reaching the group stages and progress into the Last 16. With arguably the most complete player in the world, Yaya Toure, as their main driving force, and captain Didier Drogba, Wilfired, Solomon Kalou, Gervinho and Wilfried Bony looking to haunt opposition defences, the Ivory Coast can pose a serious attacking threat to anyone in the tournament.
Predicted Highest Scorer
With Radamel Falcao now out of the tournament Colombia will turn to Sevilla striker Carlos Bacca. Bacca has had a fantastic start to life in Spain with his first season goal statistics standing at 21 goals in 52 appearances in all competitions. Sevilla won the Europa League on penalties where Bacca scored 7 in 16. He also scored the winning penalty-kick in the shootout. Bacca is quick and powerful with his creativity an important asset of his game too. It will be interesting to see how Colombia can supply him as Sevilla’s Ivan Rakitic is often carving out chances for him. With a solid World Cup, Sevilla could find Bacca’s 30m Euros release clause being activated.
I believe Colombia are well placed to have a strong World Cup and winning this group will give them great momentum. Already accustomed to the climate and with a wealth of attacking talent to choose from, despite the loss of Falcao, Colombia should comfortably qualify and will take top spot in the process.
The first game in Group C between Ivory Coast and Japan will be crucial to who finishes as runner-up. Living in Japan, I really hope the Blue Samurai can qualify for the Last 16 and a showdown with England would be fantastic. With such contrasting styles it’s a difficult one to call. If Yaya Toure produces the form he has shown in the Premier League this season he might just be the difference, both in the first game, and in making sure Ivory Coast qualify for the second round. I would not completely rule out Greece, but the other teams have more going forward and the impressive defensive displays in qualifying will have to be replicated for them to stand any chance.
The Villa Connection
There will be no Villa players representing any of the Group C teams however Juan Pablo Angel does hold the record number of appearances for any Colombian player in the Premier League and is also the top goalscorer to come from the country.
Also last summer, Villa fans may remember chasing Japanese striker Hiroshi Kiyotake of Nurenburg, but he was not for sale. Maybe with a strong showing in the next month, we may be back in for him again?
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