World Cup Preview Group C: Colombia favorites while Cote d’Ivoire, Greece, Japan go for second

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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

CCL: Toronto wins; Wild Herediano comeback

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On a single-digit Tuesday that severely limited the attendance at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, where the Colorado Rapids and Toronto FC dueled in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.

Jonathan Osorio’s second half goal put the Reds in front and Sebastian Giovinco had a goal and an assist and the visitors take a 2-0 decision back to Ontario.

The best chance of a preseason quality first half saw Dominique Badji flub the best chance of the stage into the feet of Alex Bono.

Toronto took the lead, nabbing the away goal through Osorio’s header of a Sebastian Giovinco cross. And the Atomic Ant got on the board with a goal of his own off an Auro assist with 17 minutes to play.

[ MORE: Georgia teen heading to Schalke ]

Tuesday’s other first leg saw Herediano and Tigres play to a 2-2 draw in Costa Rica, with the Liga MX visitors taking a pair of away goals but shocked by a pair of stoppage time concessions.

Francisco Meza scored in the 15th minute and Lucas Zelarayan seemingly put it to bed with 15 minutes to play.

But Yendrick Ruiz converted a 90th minute penalty kick before ex-DC United forward Jairo Arrieta did this ahead of the Feb. 22 second leg in Mexico.

Another American heads to Schalke: Zyen Jones

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Schalkamerica?

Bundesliga mainstays Schalke have added yet another American, this one 17-year-old Zyen Jones of Atlanta United. Jones is a forward with the U.S. U-17 national team.

Like Josh Sargent, who signed his deal with Werder Bremen on Tuesday, he’ll head overseas and sign a pro contract on Aug. 25, his 18th birthday.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

Jones will join several potential USMNT teammates in Gelsenkirchen, including injured senior team midfielder Weston McKennie and youngster Nick Taitague (19). Forward Haji Wright is on loan at Sandhausen.

Report: Simon Dawkins making move to Minnesota

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The Loons are taking a flier on Simon Dawkins.

The London-born Jamaican international hasn’t done a ton since returning to MLS from Derby County, and turned 30 over the offseason, and Paul Tenorio says the player is on his way to Minnesota United.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

Dawkins scored 14 goals between 2011-12 with San Jose, but scored just five times in his return to California and was blanked in 14 appearances last season. He registered just 10 shots in those matches.

The left winger would join an attack with Christian Ramirez, Kevin Molino, Ethan Finlay, and a pair of Generations Adidas forwards: Abu Danladi (2017 SuperDraft) and Mason Toye (2018).

Champions League Weds. preview: Sevilla-Man Utd, Shakhtar-Roma

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Jose Mourinho says Manchester United is one round away from having legitimate hopes of winning the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

That makes the Round of 16 tie against Sevilla — beginning Wednesday in Spain — a bit of a dream qualifier for the Red Devils.

“I normally say that Champions League dreams start around the quarter-finals and not yet in the last 16,” Mourinho said on ManUtd.com. “Last 16 still looks a long way to go. When a team reaches the quarter-finals, I think it’s the moment where even the teams that are not favourites – which is our case – they start realising that anything is possible.

The injury-hit side got a bit of a boost on Tuesday in Sevilla, where Paul Pogba, Antonio Valencia, Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera all trained ahead of the first leg.

As for the hosts, manager Vincenzo Montella admitted that he hopes Pogba won’t play, and joked that he’d prefer to tie up and “padlock” Alexis Sanchez in a bid to defend against the Chilean star.

The final Round of 16 tie to start will be Roma’s pairing with Shakhtar Donetsk, with the first leg taking place in Ukraine.

Shakhtar hasn’t played in some time, but the great equalizer is the bitter cold at Donbass Arena, where the temperature is set to be between 21 and 28 degrees Fahrenheit come kickoff.

Don’t worry, Roma fans, Daniele De Rossi is busy breathing fire into any teammates angling for excuses:

“The cold weather could affect things a little because we’re not used to it but at the end of the day it comes down to how well you perform out there. We must be mentally ready from the get-go because the cold might hit us in the opening minutes.

“If it was that much of a factor, these teams would win the Champions League every year. You don’t go through because of the weather.”