Thursday, June 5, 2014

2014 World Cup Preview: Group C

Group C is wide open. While Colombia is the favorites to win the group, their advancement is anything but a sure thing with their star player attempting to return from injury. Both Colombia and Cote d'Ivoire are exciting offensive sides while Greece is a defensive juggernaut and Japan has been sneaky good in international play.

I've teamed up with Pat (follow him on Twitter @The_Incline) to preview the 32 teams in the tournament.

Join my World Cup Bracket Predictor Group! (ESPN account required, but it's free to sign up if you don't have one.)

World Cup Appearances: 5
Best Result: Round of 16 (1990)
How they Qualified: Finished second in CONMEBOL Group Qualification
FIFA Ranking: 5

Colombia is making their first World Cup Apperance since 1998 and has gone on a meteoric rise through the World Rankings from 54th in June of 2011 to 3rd in July of 2013. Their two biggest moves on the World stage came in July of 2011 after they reached the quarterfinals of the Copa America tournament thanks to draws with Argentina and the United States and in September 2012 when they scored victories over Uruguay and Chile in World Cup qualification matches. Colombia has been in the Top 10 in the World since October 2012 and been ranked in the Top 5 since July 2013. Despite the lofty ranking, Colombia's ability to advance in this tournament is uncertain. Striker Radamel Falcao, who scored 9 goals on CONMEBOL qualification, underwent ACL surgery in January and was left off Colombia's World Cup roster as he was deemed not to be healthy enough for competition. With a healthy Falcao, Colombia would've had one of the best offensive attacks of any team in the tournament, but without him, Colombia's ability to possess and attack will be hindered. Their attacking style masked their weaknesses on defense in CONMEBOL qualification, surrendering the fewest goals of any team in the tournament.

Pat's Players to Watch
  • Falcao: The Colombians will be without the services of the ever-dangerous striker who will miss the World Cup due to the effects of a torn ACL suffered at AS Monaco. Colombian coaches and staff delayed the release of their roster to the longest possible point in hopes that Falcao would recover to an acceptable point. However, even though some reports said Colombia would take the striker at 60% health, the risk must have been too great. Falcao, who once scored 70 goals in two years at Atletico Madrid will be sorely missed.
  • James Rodriguez: There is an AS Monaco theme with the Columbian squad. The Monaco winger is, like Falcao, a product of the Porto academy and is widely considered to be on the most talented and dangerous young players in the world. If Falcao is not at 100%, the 22 year-old Rodriguez will carry be tasked with carrying the load.

World Cup Apperances: 3
Best Result: First Round (1994, 2010)
How they Qualified: Defeated Romania in UEFA Playoff
FIFA Ranking: 10

Greece boasts an incredibly boring, defensive style of soccer that has carried them to their second consecutive World Cup appearance. In the first round of UEFA qualification, they surrendered only 4 goals, the fewest allowed by every nation except Spain. As part of their defensive style, Greece is rarely offensively aggressive, as was shown by their netting only 12 goals in the group stage of UEFA qualification. With offensively aggressive teams like Colombia and Cote d'Ivoire in this group, Greece will need to be on top of their defensive game. If their strategy is successful, they will need timely goals from their lone striker Konstantinos Mitroglou who accounted for 5 of their 12 goals in the group qualification stage and 3 of their 4 against Romania in the playoff leg. The Greeks will sit back and wait for their opponents to make a mistake in order to capitalize on the counter-attack. While this isn't the most exciting brand of soccer in the world, the Greeks have ridden it to success - winning Euro 2004 and reaching the quarterfinals in Euro 2012.

Pat's Players to Watch
  • Kostas Mitroglou: The Fulham striker signed a massive deal with Fulham in January 2014, yet failed to score in only three appearances for the Cottagers. For a side that is known for their defensive nature, Mitroglou will be the lone hope up front for the Greeks. For their sake, hopefully his fortunes are better than they were with Fulham.
  • Sokratis Papastathopoulos: The Greeks stunningly won Euro 2004 behind a valiant and smothering defensive effort. If they are to advance from this group, expect a lot of 1-0 results and Papastathopoulos to play a large role in their success. He is a center back for the supremely talented German side Borussia Dortmund. 

World Cup Apperances: 3
Best Result: First Round (2006, 2010)
How they Qualified: Defeated Senegal in CAF Playoff
FIFA Ranking: 21

Could this finally be the year that Cote d'Ivoire rises on the World Stage? The Elephants have long been dubbed as "Africa's Best Team" and were rewarded by being drawn into the "Group of Death" in the two previous World Cups. This year, they have a relatively easy group and a roster full of international experience. Up front, they have strikers that are perfectly capable of finding the back of the net in Didier Drogba, Wilfried Bony, Salomon Kalou and Yaya Toure. Ivory Coast will need to press the opposition on the offensive end as their defense is clearly the weakest part of the team. That said, they are capable of scoring with anyone in the world and scored a 2-2 draw against Belgium in the latest friendly. The Elephants have the advantage of starting their World Cup trek against Japan, one of the lowest ranking teams in the tournament, and could capture the hearts of the world if they reach the knockout stage.

Pat's Players to Watch
  • Didier Drogba: The aging forward is famous for his time at Chelsea where he scored 157 goals between 2004 and 2012. After a brief stint in China, the 36 year-old Drogba now plays in Turkey for Galatasaray where he netter 14 goals this season. Drogba is no longer the dominant poacher from his days in the London’s west side, but he is still the most recognizable player for a national side that failed to live up to expectations in the last World Cup.
  • Yaya Toure: Great name and a great player. The Manchester City central midfielder plays a crucial role for his club side and just helped them win their second Barclays Premier League title in three years. Toure is known for his box-to-box ability and for his timely goals. He has also been named African Footballer of the Year for the past three years.

World Cup Appearances: 5
Best Result: Round of 16 (2002, 2010)
How they Qualified: Won AFC Group
FIFA Ranking: 47

Japan is a team capable of playing above their world ranking, which has suffered due to a lack of quality competition in their Confederation. The Japanese ran through the qualification stages, suffering only one defeat (a 2-1 loss at Jordan). They return veteran international players in Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki. Japan has surprised on the world stage before, as they did in the 2010 World Cup when they scored a 3-1 victory over Denmark to advance out of the group stage. In last summer's Confederations Cup, they played Italy to a 4-3 defeat and did not concede the winning goal until the 89th minute. Japan has a talented group of attacking forwards and in a wide open group like this, it would not be a surprise to see them emerge from the group stage for the third time in the last 4 World Cups.

Pat's Players to Watch
  • Keisuke Honda: Honda, an attacking midfielder, transferred from CSKA Moscow to AC Milan in 2014. After a breakout 2010 World Cup with enormous goals against Cameroon and Denmark, Honda will not be the surprise commodity he was four years ago. The pressure and spotlight will firmly be Honda to impress in Brazil.
  • Shinji Kagawa: David Moyes’ reign at Manchester United was not kind to Moyes, or Kagawa. The talented playmaker who transferred into Old Trafford in 2012 from Borussia Dortmund saw only 18 appearances under Moyes in 2013-14 with zero goals. Compared to Kagawa’s final season in Germany (31 appearances, 17 goals), Kagawa’s production dropped significantly. If Japan are to pull of the surprise again, Kagawa will have to find his form.

Ian's PredictionPat's Prediction

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