Colombia's Radamel Falcao, left, celebrates with teammate Pablo Armero after scoring during a 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Barranquilla, Colombia, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012
This is the third post in a series previewing the World Cup's eight groups. Read Group A and Group B; then check back later this week for looks at groups D, E, F, G and H.
The 2014 World Cup's Group C may well be the tournament's hardest to get a handle on. Colombia looked mighty in qualifying, but is nervously monitoring its best player's form after a devastating injury. Also featuring a defensive-minded European side, as well as representatives from Asia and Africa, just who will move from Group C to the knockout stage is anything but clear.
But who are the group's best players to watch? What does each squad have going for it? Who will advance to the knockout stage? Who will be left on the outside, looking in?
All that (and more!) shall be revealed right here in our 10-minute guide to Group C.
The teams (FIFA world ranking in parenthesis)
- Colombia (5)
- Greece (10)
- Côte d'Ivoire (21)
- Japan (47)
Colombian striker Radamel Falcao was dominant in South American qualifying, scoring nine goals in 13 matches to lift his nation to its first World Cup berth since 1998. Then in January, Falcao tore his left ACL during a match with his French professional club, AS Monaco. He's on Colombia's provisional World Cup squad, but can he regain his strength in time for Brazil? And if he does, will he resemble the player who powered Los Cafeteros, as the Colombian national team is known, to Brazil in the first place?
If Falcao is healthy enough to be effective, Colombia can make some noise beyond just group play. If he's out — or rendered ineffective — just making the knockout stage is no guarantee.
Beyond the favorites from South America, Greece is a team no one likes to face — they play tough, physical defense, and turn matches into knockdown, drag-out affairs. It's not necessarily fun to watch, but it is effective. Côte d’Ivoire's biggest name is the iconicDidier Drogba, but his best days are well behind him, and it's midfielder Yaya Toure who will be counted on to carry the most weight for Les Éléphants — although the team has plenty of talent to go around. Japan is the underdog, here, but they surprised everyone in 2010 by making the knockout stage in South Africa, so they can't be counted out this year either.
The schedule (all times in ET)
- Colombia versus Greece, June 13, Belo Horizonte, 12 p.m.
- Côte d’Ivoire versus Japan, June 14, Recife, 9 p.m.
- Colombia versus Côte d’Ivoire, June 19, Brasilia, 12 p.m.
- Japan versus Greece, June 19, Natal, 6 p.m.
- Japan versus Colombia, June 24, Cuiaba, 4 p.m.
- Greece versus Côte d’Ivoire, June 24, Fortaleza, 4 p.m.
4 players to watch
James Rodriguez (Colomobia): Rodriguez just wrapped up a strong first season for AS Monaco, taking on an added load after Falcao went down. Sound familiar? The attacking midfielder may have to repeat that feat this summer for Colombia. Just 22 years old, he's seen as one of the game's brightest rising stars, and will look to introduce himself to the casual soccer fan at the World Cup.
Yaya Toure (Côte d’Ivoire): Toure isn't a household name like some of the game's biggest stars — but he is, simply put, ridiculous. He's strong. He's fast. He's an offensive mega-threat. He's a nightmare defender. Toure does it all on the pitch, and he just lead Manchester City to the English Premier League title. Leading Côte d’Ivoire into the World Cup's knockout stage would cap a banner year for the fearsome midfielder.
Sokratis Papastathopolous (Greece): Remember that Greek defense we mentioned earlier? Papastathopolous plays a vital role. Physicality and grit define the center-back's game, and the 25-year-old just finished his first season with German club Borussia Dortmund.
Keisuke Honda (Japan): You probably aren't terribly familiar with many Japanese soccer players, but Honda is seen by folks in the know as the world's best. He plays club ball for AC Milan, where he struggled this year. But he carried Japan through to the knockout stage in 2010, and will again be key to the Blue Samurai's World Cup hopes. He's an offensive whiz with an out-of-this-world skill level.
Like we said, this is a tough group to forecast right now — but we think Colombia will take it, no matter how Falcao's health shakes out. Côte d’Ivoire, Greece and Japan are all capable of advancing, as well. But we think Côte d’Ivoire — behind Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba, the uniquely-coiffed Gervinho and Salomon Kalou — will pull through, advance to the knockout stage and send the Greeks and Japanese home early.
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