World Cup Profiles - Group C

Group C

Over the last 18 months, Colombia have risen from a trendy “dark horse” pick for an outsider contender at the 2014 World Cup to genuine challengers for the trophy.
This is quite remarkable given that the 2014 finals will be their first appearance at the tournament for 16 years. Los Cafeteros boasted an impressive FIFA ranking of 4th entering 2014, as well as two of the most expensive players in European soccer in Radamel Falcao (injured) and James Rodríguez, teammates at AS Monaco.
Colombia will be looking to exorcize the demons of 1994, where a similarly strong team suffered the embarrassment of exiting at the group stage.
Colombia endured something of a roller-coaster qualification campaign, though winning 9 of their 16 fixtures to come second in South America behind Argentina, and looking particularly strong in a 4-0 win over fellow-qualifiers Uruguay (who entered that game unbeaten in two years), they were not certain of qualification until the penultimate match due to some underwhelming performances at times.

Coach Jose Pekerman has used a variety of different formations throughout qualifying, to varying degrees of success, and it is unclear quite how Colombia will line up at the World Cup.
In January 2014, Colombia potentially lost Falcao for the tournament, as he suffered an injury to his knee ligaments playing for AS Monaco. He is now ruled out and is a massive blow to Los Cafeteros, as one of the leading strikers in world soccer. 

How they qualified 
Colombia began the South American qualifiers well enough, collecting four points from their first two games before defeat at home to Argentina in their third outing spelled the end of Leonel Alvarez’s reign as coach. The arrival of Jose Nestor Pekerman as his replacement represented a turning point for Los Cafeteros in their journey to Brazil 2014, with the Argentinean coach overseeing a run of five wins in their next six games, a sequence that put them firmly on course for the finals.
Colombia’s convincing home form at their Barranquilla citadel was central to their successful campaign, as was the balance between attack and defence and their cutting edge up front. No side in the group let in fewer goals than their 13 and only two of their continental rivals scored more than their 27. After clinching a trip to their first world finals since France 1998 on the penultimate matchday, the Colombians eventually took second place, their highest ever finish since the introduction of the current qualifying system.

World Cup history
With the exception of Italy 1990, when the golden generation that included Rene Higuita and Carlos Valderrama slipped up against unfancied Cameroon in the Round of 16, Colombia have never made it past the group stage at the FIFA World Cup. In fact, an analysis of the other three campaigns reveals a disappointing combined record of six defeats, one draw and just two wins at the tournament.

Goalkeepers: David Ospina (Nice), Faryd Mondragon (Deportivo Cali), Camilo Vargas (Santa Fe)
Defenders: Mario Yepes (Atalanta), Juan Camilo Zuniga (Napoli), Pablo Armero (Napoli), Cristian Zapata (AC Milan), Carlos Valdes (San Lorenzo), Santiago Arias (PSV Eindhoven), Eder Alvarez Balanta (River Plate)
Midfielders: Fredy Guarin (Inter Milan), Abel Aguilar (Toulouse), Carlos Sanchez (Elche), Aldo Leao Ramirez (Morelia), Juan Cuadrado (Fiorentina), James Rodriguez (Monaco), Alexander Mejia (Atletico Nacional), Juan Quintero (Porto)
Forwards: Teofilo Gutierrez (River Plate), Jackson Martinez (Porto), Adrian Ramos (Borussia Dortmund), Carlos Bacca (Sevilla), Victor Ibarbo (Cagliari)

The key players
James Rodriguez is the man who pulls the strings in the midfield. The talented midfielder will be arriving at the World Cup in top form. Rodriguez successfully took over the scoring role at Monaco after Radamel Falcao got sidelined. Considered by many in Colombia as the successor to iconic midfielder Carlos Valderrama, the 22-year-old Rodriguez was a regular in Colombia’s youth squads and will have his first chance to prove his worth at a top international competition.
The Colombians can also count on the experience of defensive duo Mario Yepes and Christian Zapata at the back, as well as Inter Milan’s Fredy Guarin and the goalscoring instinct of Jackson Martinez.

The Coach: Jose Pekerman
Pekerman came into the Colombia job amid much controversy, as his predecessor Leonel Alvarez was sacked after only three months in the job. Pekerman, who took his home country of Argentina to the 2006 World Cup, made an impressive start as Colombia’s manager, winning four of his first five matches in charge, but has weathered increasing pressure in recent months as results and performances have become more inconsistent, given several changes of formation and system. Though his sides do not always set up to play in a way that is particularly easy on the eye, Pekerman deserves a lot of credit for taking Colombia back to the finals after a 16-year absence.

Prediction: Knockout Stages
Even without Falcao, Colombia should have enough to qualify from this group in first place. Either England, Uruguay or Italy lie in wait in the second round and that looks an incredibly tough assignment on paper. Upsetting those sides is a possibility, even so we don’t see them going beyond the quarter-finals.

Quick facts:
FIFA Ranking: 5th
Best World Cup Result: Quarter-finals (1990)
Record Scorer: Arnoldo Iguarán (25 goals between 1979 and 1993)
Most Capped Player: Carlos Valderrama (111 caps between 1985 and 1998)
Captain: Mario Yepes

Group matches
Saturday 14th June 2014 v Greece (Belo Horizonte)
Thursday June 19, 2014 v Ivory Coast (Brasília)
Tuesday June 24, 2014 v Japan (Cuiaba)

Greece head into the 2014 World Cup with plenty of confidence, despite having to qualify through the play-offs.
Fernando Santos’ side finished second on goal difference to Bosnia-Herzegovina in one of the weaker qualifying groups. But Greece dropped points in just two of their 10 matches, a 3-1 defeat away to Bosnia last March following a 0-0 draw between the sides in Athens five months earlier.
They were the only slip-ups in a group also containing Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia and Liechtenstein. Santos’ side duly dispatched Romania 4-2 on aggregate in the play-offs, with Kostas Mitroglou’s three goals making him the hero of the hour.
Greece have a good record of qualifying for major events since their unexpected European Championship victory a decade ago. They have reached three of the last four tournaments, only to disappoint on the big stage.
An overly defensive approach at the finals has won them few friends, although a quarter-final appearance at Euro 2012 helped to lift some of the gloom in a country more badly affected by the global economic crash than most.
Two of the three record caps holders, Giorgos Karagounis and Kostas Katsouranas, are again expected to pitch up at the finals, having each made 10 appearances in qualifying.
Greece have been a little more adventurous under Santos, and a group containing Colombia, Ivory Coast and Japan certainly presents them with a realistic chance of qualification. It can only be hoped that Santos’ men back up some of their pre-tournament confidence with a bold approach in Brazil.

How they qualified
Greece enjoyed an excellent qualification campaign. Their points total of 25 from their ten games would have been enough to see them through as winners in five of the other eight groups; instead, they had to endure a play-off after losing out on goal difference to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Five of their eight victories were secured with 1-0 scorelines, and it was only against Group G’s eventual winners that the Greeks dropped points after a 0-0 draw at home and a 3-1 defeat in Zenica.
In the play-offs, Fernando Santos’ men were pitted against a Romanian outfit that boasted its fair share of World Cup experience, but the UEFA EURO 2004 winners carried their good form into the two-legged tie and advanced comfortably. After a storming 3-1 win at home, a 1-1 draw in Bucharest was enough for Greece to seal their place in Brazil next summer. Three of their four goals came from in-form striker Konstantinos Mitroglou, whose five strikes during qualifying make him Greece’s most potent attacking option.

World Cup history
The undoubted high point in Greek footballing history was their stunning triumph at EURO 2004 in Portugal, but their record at the FIFA World Cup finals is distinctly modest. At USA 1994, they departed home with no points and no goals following group stage defeats to Argentina (4-0), Bulgaria (4-0) and Nigeria (2-0). Some 16 years later, the trip to South Africa did produce a 2-1 win over Nigeria, but 2-0 defeats to South Korea and Argentina meant another group stage exit.

Goalkeepers: Orestis Karnezis (Granada), Panagiotis Glykos (PAOK), Stefanos Kapino (Panathinaikos)
Defenders: Vassilis Torosidis (Roma), Loukas Vyntra (Levante), Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Borussia Dortmund), Costas Manolas (Olympiakos), Vangelis Moras (Hellas Verona), Jose Holebas (Olympiakos), Giorgos Tzavellas (PAOK), Yiannis Maniatis (Olympiakos)
Midfielders: Alexandros Tziolis (Kayserispor), Kostas Katsouranis (PAOK), Giorgos Karagounis (Fulham), Andreas Samaris (Olympiakos), Panagiotis Tachtsidis (Torino), Panagiotis Kone (Bologna), Yiannis Fetfatzidis (Genoa), Lazaros Christodoulopoulos (Bologna)
Forwards: Georgios Samaras (Celtic), Kostas Mitroglou (Fulham), Theofanis Gekas (Konyaspor), Dimitris Salpingidis (PAOK)

The key players
Captain and seasoned midfield general Giorgos Karagounis remains the dominant figure in the Greek line-up but forwards Dimitrios Salpingidis and Mitroglou will certainly have a part to play and provide Santos with a variety of attacking options. He can also call on the experience of the likes of Theofanis Gekas and Giorgos Samaras, which will be key when the tournament begins. Incidentally, though, despite their array of attacking talent, it was Greece’s defence that stole the show in qualifying, laying the foundation for success by conceding just four times in ten matches.

The Coach: Fernando Santos
The Greek federation are keen to keep Santos on after the World Cup. The Portuguese tactician has flitted between Greece and his homeland during a 27-year managerial career, winning one league title and three domestic cups.

Prediction: Group Stages
This is likely to be one of the more even groups, with Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan battling it out for qualification alongside Colombia, who look favourites. If Greece can keep it tight at the back and bring a little more invention to their play, they have a chance, but the Ivorians look like they have a little too much on paper and should go through alongside the South Americans.

Quick facts
FIFA Ranking: 10th
Best World Cup Result: First-Round (1994 and 2010)
Best European Championship Result: Winners (2004)
Record Scorer: Nikos Anastopoulos (29 goals in 75 games between 1977 and 1988)
Most Capped Player: Giorgos Karagounis
Captain: Giorgos Karagounis

Group matches
Sunday June 15 2014 v Colombia (Recife)
Thursday June 19 2014 v Japan (Natal)
Tuesday June 24 2014 v Ivory Coast (Fortaleza)

Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast have some unfinished business at the World Cup, having been dumped out at the group stage on the two occasions they have qualified.
In 2006, defeats to Argentina and Netherlands in their opening two fixtures spelled the end of their debut tournament, while in 2010 they were once again unfortunate to be drawn alongside two global heavyweights in the form of Brazil and Portugal, who ultimately progressed from a group also including North Korea.
The going should be substantially more comfortable for Ivory Coast this time round, given they have been placed in Group C alongside Colombia, Greece and Japan, a trio who pose much less of a threat than in their two previous World Cup groups. Arguably aside from Colombia, who with the presence of Radamel Falcao will be seen as a dark horse, there is nobody who Ivory Coast should find particularly dangerous, and they should be confident that they can make it third time lucky in progressing through to the knockout stages.
Much of the expectation lies heavily on the shoulders of former Chelsea superstar Didier Drogba. He is his country’s all-time record goalscorer and somebody whom his teammates will look upon to lead the way into the second round. Aside from Drogba, Ivory Coast harbour some extremely talented players, such as Manchester City’s battering ram Yaya Toure, and ex-Arsenal winger Gervinho, who has set Serie A alight with Roma this season.

How they qualified
Ivory Coast breezed through their opening qualifying group with four wins from their six matches. They scored 15 goals to five conceded, and their only dropped points came from two draws against their biggest rivals Morocco. Their home-and-away play-off was much trickier however as a resurgent Senegal stood in their way. For the final quarter of an hour of the second leg, the Senegalese were one goal away from knocking out the Elephants on away goals at a 3-2 aggregate, but Salomon Kalou's late goal settled the tie and sent the Ivorians into their third consecutive World Cup finals.

FIFA World Cup finals history
Ivory Coast have never made it past the group stage of a FIFA World Cup finals, but it is perhaps worth pointing out that the draw has never been particularly kind to them. For their debut appearance in 2006, the Elephants shared Group C with Argentina, Netherlands and Serbia and Montenegro. They finished third in the pool, just as they did in South Africa four years later, when they were drawn alongside Brazil, Portugal and North Korea.

Goalkeepers: Boubacar Barry (Lokeren), Sylvain Gbohouo (Sewe Sport), Mande Sayouba (Stabaek)
Defenders: Serge Aurier (Toulouse), Jean-Daniel Akpa-Akpro (Toulouse), Didier Zokora (Trabzonspor), Kolo Toure (Liverpool), Souleman Bamba (Trabzonspor), Arthur Boka (Stuttgart), Constant Djakpa (Eintracht Frankfurt), Ousmane Viera (Caykur Rizespor)
Midfielders: Cheick Tiote (Newcastle), Serey Die (Basel), Ismael Diomande (Saint-Etienne), Didier Ya Konan (Hannover), Yaya Toure (Manchester City), Max Gradel (Saint-Etienne)
Forwards: Didier Drogba (Galatasaray), Wilfried Bony (Swansea), Gervinho (Roma), Salomon Kalou (Lille), Giovanni Sio (Basel), Mathis Bolly (Fortuna Dusseldorf)

The key players
Ivory Coast boast some of the greatest individual talents in Africa. Forwards Drogba and Salomon Kalou are a formidable front pair, while midfield duo Didier Zokora and Yaya Toure perform key ball-winning duties in the middle of the park. Explosive winger Gervinho supplies service from both flanks, with Kolo Toure providing a wealth of experience at the back. 

The Coach: Sabri Lamouchi
42-year old Sabri Lamouchi enjoyed somewhat of an illustrious playing career, turning out for the likes of Monaco, Parma, Inter Milan and the France national team. Lamouchi was part of France’s 28-man preliminary squad for the 1998 World Cup finals, but didn't make the final cut. After retiring from playing in 2009, Lamouchi landed his first job in management in 2012, and has since guided Ivory Coast to the 2014 World Cup finals. For a highly inexperienced manager, Brazil 2014 will represent a serious challenge for him and his team.

Prediction: Knockout stages
Ivory Coast have avoided a group of death this time and are tipped to finish second behind Colombia. However, their second round fate will most probably land them at the doorstep of one of Uruguay, Italy or England. Whatever the case, they will face a mightily difficult second round tie, which may spell the end of their tournament.

Quick facts
FIFA Ranking: 21st
Best World Cup Result: Group Stage (2006, 2010)
Best Africa Cup of Nations Result: Winners (1992)
Record Scorer: Didier Drogba (62)
Most Capped Player: Didier Zokora (118)
Captain: Didier Drogba

Group matches
Sunday June 15 2014 v Japan (Recife)
Thursday June 19 2014 v Colombia (Brasilia)
Tuesday June 24 2014 v Greece (Fortaleza)

Japan was the first team to qualify for the World Cup and they go into the competition hoping to progress further than their previous best of the Second Round.
Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni took charge in 2010 and guided the nation to glory in the 2011 Asian Cup after defeating Australia in the final 1-0, a victory which secured a place in the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil. However, that competition proved difficult for Japan as they lost all three group games against Brazil, Italy and Mexico.
Zaccheroni will be looking for consistency from his young side after a slow start to the qualification campaign whilst their record from 2013 is fairly mixed with eight wins, three draws and eight defeats.
However, a draw against the Netherlands and victory over Belgium in late 2013 suggests that Japan can successfully compete against fancied sides.
There is no doubt that there is plenty of talent within the Japanese ranks but the likes of Shinji Kagawa, Shinji Okazaki and Keisuke Honda will need to be at the top of their game if they are to have a successful tournament.

How they qualified
The mammoth, two-year qualifying campaign saw Japan progress game-by-game under Alberto Zaccheroni, who took over in the wake of the team’s impressive run at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa. The new-look Japan were struggling to fit into the Italian’s strategy as they began their qualifying bid in lacklustre style, losing to Uzbekistan and North Korea before seeing their progression into the fourth round secured.
Their transition proved successful, inspired by talisman Keisuke Honda and spearheaded by the likes of Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki, the Japanese began to gel in the fourth round. Two emphatic opening victories over Oman (3-0) and Jordan (6-0) saw the Samurai Blue as the group’s runaway leaders and although they were held by Australia to a 1-1 draw, Oman and Iraq’s losses put Zaccheroni’s side on the cusp of qualification.
An unexpected 2-1 loss in Jordan may have briefly delayed their celebration party, but they battled back to draw Australia 1-1, providing Japan with the requisite point to seal their fifth successive FIFA World Cup appearance.

World Cup history
They failed to live up to the expectations in their debut World Cup in 1998, losing three straight games to bow out. However, 2002 Korea/Japan saw them make history on home soil in Asia's first FIFA World Cup, winning a group that also featured Russia, Belgium and Tunisia to storm into the second round, only to lose out to eventual third-place finishers Turkey by a solitary goal. They were brought back down to earth at Germany 2006, salvaging merely a point from three group games to dump out.
They more than redeemed themselves at South Africa 2010 though, progressing to the second stage at the expense of the likes of Denmark and Cameroon. They came close to stunning Paraguay in the consequent round-of-16 clash, with the South Americans only advancing through a penalty shootout victory after regular and extra-time finished goalless.

Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Standard Liege), Shusaku Nishikawa (Urawa Red Diamonds), Shuichi Gonda (FC Tokyo)
Defenders: Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Yasuyuki Konno (Gamba Osaka), Masahiko Inoha (Jubilo Iwata), Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo), Atsuto Uchida (Schalke 04), Hiroki Sakai (Hannover 96), Gotoku Sakai (Stuttgart)
Midfielders: Makoto Hasebe (Nuremberg), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Toshihiro Aoyama (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Hiroshi Kiyotake (Nuremberg), Keisuke Honda (AC Milan)
Forwards: Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United), Shinji Okazaki (Mainz 05), Yuya Osako (1860 Munich), Yoichiro Kakitani (Cerezo Osaka), Yoshito Okubo (Kawasaki Frontale), Manabu Saito (Yokohama Marinos)

The key players
Having excelled during the last FIFA World Cup and the recent AFC Asian Cup, AC Milan midfielder Keisuke Honda has quickly established his place as the team's new leader, filling the void left by Hidetoshi Nakata and Shunsuke Nakamura.
Spearheading the attacking-line are Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki, who finished the continental finals as the team's top-scorers with three goals. Driving the central midfield alongside Honda is set-piece specialist Yasuhito Endo while Schalke 04 defender Atsuto Uchida is the key man at the rearguard.

The Coach: Alberto Zaccheroni
The Italian has been in charge of the Blue Samurai since 2010 having previously managed a number of well-known clubs in his homeland including Juventus, Lazio and Milan. Marked by his use of the 3-4-3 formation, Zaccheroni has brought a number of young players into the national set-up and overseen a number of impressive victories. They may concede quite a few goals but Zaccheroni has Japan playing impressive attacking soccer.

Prediction: Group Stages
This is one of the 2014 World Cup's more evenly matched groups, and Japan certainly have a chance of making the second round. In reality they may struggle against the technically accomplished Colombians and an Ivory Coast side whose 'Golden Generation' will be desperate to make it out of the group stage after being given unlucky draws in the last two tournaments.

Quick facts
FIFA Ranking: 47th
Best World Cup Result: Second round (2002 & 2010)
Record Scorer: Kunishige Kamamoto (80 goals between 1964 and 1977)
Most Capped Player: Yasuhito Endō (140 caps from 2002 to present)
Captain: Makoto Hasebe

Group matches
Sunday June 15 2014 v Ivory Coast (Recife)
Thursday June 19 2014 v Greece (Natal)

Tuesday June 24 2014 v Colombia (Cuiaba)