2014 Fifa World Cup: Group C preview – Greece, Colombia, Japan, Ivory Coast
If there is a “Group of Death” then there is also a Group of Life. A group where all games are challenging, but not with the looming fear of everything being an impossibility. ANTOINETTE MULLER previews group C.
If there is a “Group of Death” then this is surely the “Group of Life”. Not because there are special privileges where everyone in the group can advance, but because everyone in this group has a solid chance. That means most of the games in this group are likely to be entertaining – quite like the Group of Death, but without that pesky Grim Reaper constantly hovering around telling you just how tough this World Cup stuff is.
This is a group worth paying attention to, if for no other reason than figuring out how Greece will manage to fit “Christodoulopoulos” onto the back of a jersey.
Who is playing and what are the odds of advancing?
Colombia, Greece, Japan and Ivory Coast make up this tasty spectacle and the only overwhelming favourite to progress is Colombia. From there, it's pretty much fair game to all involved. Again, according to Pinnacle, these are the odds of the teams progressing:
Ivory Coast: 48%
Some good news for African teams, then?
Ivory Coast’s “Golden Generation” have one last chance to do something special before they all probably retire from international football and make lots of money playing for stinking rich clubs.
They've appeared at two World Cups, but failed to make it past the group stage in both Germany in 2006 and South Africa in 2010. In their defence, they were in the "Group of Death" on both occasions, so it's only fair that they are in the more lively group this time. At the last edition, they managed to hold Portugal to a 0-0 draw, not that it matters this time around at all.
As favourites for the Africa Cup of Nations last year, Ivory Coast stumbled in the quarter-finals against Nigeria. That came after finishing runners-up the year before. This generation of players has far too often ended up as the bridesmaids, and while nobody expects them to win, they should expect to advance to the Round of 16.
The only team out of the group that Ivory Coast has played before is Japan. They beat them 2-0 in a friendly back in June 2010. But those results hardly matter. For the highest ranking team in Africa qualifying for the tournament, expectations and hopes run high. Coach Sabri Lamouchi has made some gutsy decisions in his squad selection.
They're a team with some pragmatic attacking options From Didier Drogba to Wilfried Bony. Then there is Yaya Toure. Although predominantly defensive, he has shown for Manchester City that he can appear deceptively slow, but pounce if you even dare to blink a little bit too much. The only real struggle for Ivory Coast will be the back four. They are easily dismantled and could lead to the team's undoing.
Topping the group
Colombian football has undergone a renaissance and have beaten Uruguay, Chile and Paraguay in the qualifiers. Under coach Jose Pekerman they have found some new pizzazz and should top the group. They’ve never made it further than the second round, but if they are looking for omens, perhaps the fact that Pekerman was also in charge of Argentina back in 2006, when they reached the quarter-finals will help.
Players to watch
Cheick Tiote (Ivory Coast): Yes, there is Drogba, there is Toure, there is Bony, but you already knew about them. Tiote's knack for surging forward in the box and his ability to protect the back four will be vital for Ivory Coast. Although he can lose his cool now and then, Uncle Drogba will set him straight very quickly.
Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Greece, as if you needed telling): Besides needing patience just to pronounce his own name, Papastathopoulos is also a very talented defender. And Greece will need to do a lot of defending. His time at Borussia Dortmund has been fruitful and he will be expected to be the rock at the back.
Keisuke Honda (Japan): We're sure there's a joke about a car in here somewhere, but we'll pass over it for now. The Milan striker played a big role in getting his team to actually qualify. Although he hasn't quite lived up to expectations in Series A, with 20 goals in 53 appearances for his country, he's something to cling to.
Radamel Falcao (Colombia): You've probably already heard the name Falcoa, but expect to hear it a whole lot more. He is one of the most devastating strikers in the world and likely to finish as one of the tournament's leading goal scorers. That is, if he is fully fit, of course.
Togo striker Emmanuel Adebayor (whose country didn’t qualify for the World Cup) has been quite scathing about the Ivory Coast. He says he is buddies with all of them but that the team lacks togetherness so they will never get anywhere. Yowzer.
"How come for the last four or five years have they not won the African Cup of Nations? They have got the best striker in Europe in Didier Drogba. They have got the best midfielder today, Yaya Toure. There's no togetherness. Everyone wants to be the hero. Everybody wants to be the one to finish on a high so the folks remember them for what I have done, not for what we have done as a generation, nor for what we have done as team. Everyone wants to be like a hero and that is what is killing Ivory Coast." DM
Photo: Ivory Coast's Wilfried Bony and Didier Drogba (R) are challenged by Algeria's Rafik Halliche (L) during their African Nations Cup (AFCON 2013) Group D soccer match in Rustenburg, January 30, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings