Group C may be the easiest at the 2014 World Cup. Its seeded team is unproven. There is no second power. The group’s European team is one of the weakest UEFA has sent to Brazil. While the group features four quality teams, nations like the United States and the Netherlands would be rightfully envious of Japan and Greece’s draws.
The upshot is a competitive group that provides a wide range of potentials, styles, experience, and stars, and with three teams taking suspected back lines into the tournament, we’ll likely see goals. Combine that with a parity among the group’s bottom three, and you have a prescription for drama.
Here’s a quick look at Group C, which begins play on June 14 (click on country name for full preview)
Colombia: Even without the injured Radamel Falcao, the cafeteros are the group’s best team. James Rodríguez and Teófilo Gutiérrez will still be dangerous going forward, while Fredy Guarin will provide quality in the middle. Defense is a question mark, but this group may prove forgiving.
Greece: For better or worse, the 2004 European Champions will play to type. Solid at the back, Greece will rely on the opportunities opponents give them going forward. It may sound like a limited plan, but it’s one that got them out of their group at Euro 2012.
Cote d’Ivoire: The big names in attack are enticing, but the back five is worrisome. With Yaya Touré, Salomon Kalou, Gervinho, Wilfried Bony and Didier Drogba, Les Elephants have more name talents than they can start in attack, but the midfield will have to be strong to prevent the back line from being exploited.
Japan: Goal scoring is an issue, and the lact of quality at the back could prevent the Asian champions from making another knockout round. Through the middle, however, Japan is the best team in this group. With three games in 11 days, their fitness and style could also prove advantageous.
Who’s going through: Colombia and one of Japan or Cote d’Ivoire. In this space, we’ll go with Japan, thinking they’re likely to control the ball in that head-to-head matchup on June 14.
Who’s going home: Greece and Cote d’Ivoire, but each team is capable of going through. Given the defenses Greece will face in this group, Fernando Santos’s side will get their chances. If Cote d’Ivoire’s fitness holds up, their defense may not get exploited.
Marquee match: That Japan-Cote d’Ivoire match on June 14 will be the group’s most important. A winner in Recife will be able to tolerate, if not straight out play for, draws against Colombia and Greece. A loser may need to win their last two.
Top players to watch:
5. Shinji Kagawa, Japan
4. James Rodriguez, Colombia
3. Keisuke Honda, Japan
2. Didier Drogba, Cote d’Ivoire
1. Yaya Toure, Cote d’Ivoire