Group C sees (!) yet another South American country and one who I initially fancied to go far when the draw was made last December. However, since then they have lost not only a man who is their talismanic striker but one of the world’s great goalscorers.
In Radamel Falcao, Colombia had a man who could have been value for the Golden Boot gong, but he has been sidelined by an injury to his knee and has ruled himself out of the tournament, as he didn’t want to play if he was less than 100%. Although the Monaco man will be a huge miss, they do have unknown quantities at this level in Carlos Bacca of Sevilla and Jackson Martinez of Porto. They will probably do battle with each other to partner River Plate’s Teofilio Gutierrez. The experience will come from the third-most capped defender Mario Yepes, while the attacking flair of probable playmaker Fredy Guarin of Inter and the excellence of Falcao’s Monaco team-mate James Rodriguez – the leading assister in France’s Ligue 1 in his debut season, will see them still being a threat and they can get deep into the tournament.
They should win this group and then possibly set up a second round clash against England or Italy, with the winners of that likely to face Brazil in the last eight. If the hosts are not firing and Colombia are still with us, there could be a shock on the cards. Just another thing to add, 42-year-old goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon (or Monraptor, as he was known as on an early edition of Pro Evolution Soccer will become the oldest player ever to play in the World Cup, should he get on at any point). Official records show that Roger Milla of Cameroon was 42 years and 39 days when he played against Russia in USA 94. But as we know, the DOBs of African players are often brought into question!
Greece may never perform as well as they did at Euro 2004, when they upset all the odds to take home the crown as 80/1 outsiders (and earn me the winner of my work’s sweep!) They still play in the familiar way which helped them all the way in Portugal a decade ago, but they cannot rely on winning games 1-0, in fact, it’s hard to see where that goal will come from consistently. They are rigid in defence and will be hard to break down, but they are not rank outsiders again for no reason. If you don’t concede you cannot lose, but if you cannot score it’s nigh on impossible to win. A side can easily go out by drawing all three games and they will be looking to Fulham’s Kostas Mitroglou amongst others to grab that elusive one, before crushing the life out of a game and roll back the years. They haven’t won a knockout game since their Euro triumph, but that shouldn’t be their main focus here – I don’t even see them getting out of the groups.
Ivory Coast are playing in their third consecutive World Cup finals and some of their best players have been strutting their stuff in the Premier League over the last few seasons. Didier Drogba may no longer play on these shores any more, but he is still a threat and he will no longer be carrying the hopes of a nation on his albeit broad shoulders. The supporting cast are now far more active in the fight and none more so than City pair (Manchester’s) Yaya Toure and (Swansea’s) Wilfried Bony who netted 36 goals between them in the English top-flight last season. The only thing with The Elephants is that they are the complete opposite to group rivals, Greece. Their attitude to defence seems to be more cavalier than sturdy. Kevin Keegan will at least be one man happy to watch them. They are yet to get out of a group in two previous attempts, despite netting nine times in six matches as they have also conceded as many. If they can beat the Japanese in their first games, that will set them on their way and should they be able to breach the tight Greek defence, they may not need anything from the Colombia clash in between. Should they progress from the group stage, they will most likely face Uruguay, for me. Toure and Suarez will then resume their conflicts…
Japan have now reached every World Cup since their debut in France 1998 – as well as being the first team to qualify for each of the last three – and they have gained some useful results in friendlies leading up to Brazil. All eyes will be on Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa (and his non-alter-ego Evil Kagawa on Twitter), AC Milan Keisuke Honda and Inter full-back Yuto Nagatomo, but the main man could be the Mainz forward, Shinji Okazaki who was in great form last season with 15 goals in his first campaign at Die Nullfünfer. He also has a tremendous record at international level with 38 goals in 73 appearances and should Honda and Kagawa, amongst others, create enough chances in games for him, he could shoot them into the last 16. However, as with a few teams at this year’s tournament their defence isn’t the greatest and they will need to be scoring at least twice in matches to win them.
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