Group C: Predictions and Preview
Yes, the group lacks a true marquee name in terms of the teams, but there is also an absence of any obvious whipping boy. The baseline quality of this group is quite high, and all of the games will be relatively even. What's more, there's an intriguing rock-paper-scissors aspect to many of the matchups, with Colombia's attack facing Greece's defence, and Japan's technique having to deal with the tenacity of the Ivory Coast's Yaya Toure.
That variety of qualities could create a variety of results and one of those rare groups where there are only two or three points -- or even none -- between first and second.
It is, however, difficult not to think there is that slight split in overall quality, with both Colombia and Ivory Coast having that bit more than Japan and Greece. In fact, the greatest challenges for the South American and African sides could be psychological. The previous occasion Colombia were so fancied was in that fateful World Cup 1994 in the United States, which ended in misery, and then tragedy with the post-tournament murder of defender Andres Escobar. Ivory Coast, meanwhile, have never got through a World Cup group. Both, however, should ultimately get through this one.
Colombia: A hugely formidable side that combines physicality with awesome forward power, most conspicuously in the rampaging Radamel Falcao. Most eyes will be on him, but that in itself creates other avenues for the Colombian attack. If opposition sides can weather that, however, Jose Pekerman's side does have flaws that ensures they were just seeds but not quite favourites. Issues at centre-back remain. Colombia will just have to try and outscore teams.
Ivory Coast: They may have moved on from the perceived golden generation of 2006 and lost some of that squad's stars, but they have at least -- and at last -- also lost their capacity to be drawn in the Group of Death. This is a much more inviting pool for the Ivorians than either 2006 or 2010. With a player like Toure at the absolute peak of his career, and Didier Drogba still so dangerous, they should finally feel confident of the end of an unfortunate run.
Japan: At first glance, they are not one of the two sides you would expect to get through this pool, but a deeper look also reveals some real substance to their squad. In the respected Alberto Zaccheroni, they have a manager well capable of tactical flexibility and who also has already won an Asian Cup. In the likes of Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda, they have a fine technical team. The main flaw is up front, but there is enough about Japan to suggest they won't finish at the back of the group all too easily.
Greece: Fernando Santos's team remain as resilient and resolute as ever, but have added one quality they have lacked since 2004: a prolific forward. Konstantinos Mitroglou has been in free-scoring form for both Olympiakos and through qualifying. It ensures that teams who have generally dominated play against the Greeks now have to be a little more cautious not to leave an abundance of space behind. That has possibly further played into their excellent defensive record in qualifying, where they only conceded only four goals. It gives them a fighting chance.
Best individual battle: Falcao vs. Sokratis Papastathopoulos
This pits the finest forward of the group's most awesome attack against the highest-quality defender in the best backline. This could be both the group's defining and decisive individual battle, bringing to a head their many disparate traits.
The players' own qualities are reflected by their statuses, with Falcao one of the most expensive players in the world at Monaco and Sokratis a fixture in one of Europe's most exciting club sides in Borussia Dortmund. This is likely to be an exacting faceoff.
Best game: Colombia vs. Ivory Coast
Although the contrasting qualities of all sides in this group mean each should be genuinely enthralling in its own way, that actually only adds to the fascination of this most stellar fixture in Brasilia on June 19.
In normal circumstances, you would have it as the battle for the top spot. In a group that looks so much more volatile than normal, one of these could be fighting for their future. The fact that it comes in the second round of games, right when they're all still in the mix, makes it all the more momentous.
X factor: Offensive flair
If this group is lacking that grand historic name in terms of World Cup history, it has plenty of box-office brilliance in regards the Champions League modern stars. Even more alluringly, many of them are particularly bombastic or creative attackers: Falcao, Toure, Kagawa. It will not want for a sense of wonder.
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