By: Travis Thayer
3. Ivory Coast
12:00 ET Saturday, June 14: Colombia v. Greece ABC
9:00 ET Saturday, June 14: Ivory Coast v. Japan ESPN
12:00 ET Thursday, June 19: Colombia v. Ivory Coast ESPN
6:00 ET Thursday, June 19: Japan v. Greece ESPN
4:00 ET Tuesday, June 24: Japan v. Colombia ESPN
4:00 ET Tuesday, June 24: Greece v. Ivory Coast ESPN 2
As of right now, Colombian star Falcao is trying to make an incredible comeback from a devastating knee injury that initially was thought to be to severe to even think about competing in the World Cup. Falcao lightly trained with his Colombian teammates a couple of days ago, but it appears it may be too little too late for Falcao. Competition begins in 14 days, and the Colombians will wait until the last-minute to finalize their 23-man roster, but they should be a favorite to get out of Group C even if Falcao can’t go. The Colombians have plenty of talent, as they will be led by Monaco midfielder James Rodriguez, and Porto striker Jackson Martinez. The two should provide the Colombians with some scoring punch, while boasting the stingiest defense during South American qualifying.
Greece is built on defense. If you plan on watching the Greeks play, be ready for a long, low-scoring game. That is unless Greece striker Kostas Mitroglou returns to his qualifying stage form. Mitroglou showed some scoring flair in qualifying before suffering an injury that really derailed his season at Fulham. If he doesn’t return to form, then look for Borussia Dortmund defender Sokratis Papastathapolous to power his team to a lot of 0-0 and 1-0 games. Greece has shown the ability to win at the World Cup in the past, and they can’t be counted out in a group that might be up for grabs.
The Ivory Coast may have the most talented team in Group C with the likes of Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure, and Salomon Kalou. All three are getting up there in age, but a favorable draw sets well for the Elephants. This may be the last time all three players play in the World Cup, and that could be all the motivation the team needs to get out of Group C. The Group is shaping up to be an “anything can happen” group, and the Ivory Coast has the experience and talent necessary to advance.
Japan is certainly the wildcard in Group C. Not many people expect Japan to be at the top of Group C, but they could certainly shake things up. Japan shocked everyone in 2010 by getting to the knockout round. Keisuke Honda was the conquering hero in 2010, and he is back for another chance to shock the world. He is joined by Bundesliga battle-tested Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki. Honda now has some help at the top of the pitch, but Japan will only go as far as its defense will take them. There isn’t much talent in the backfield with the exception of rising Southampton defender Maya Yoshida. Japan should hope for a draw against Ivory Coast in the opener, and then a defeat of Greece could set them up for a possible chance to advance just like they did in 2010.
PLAYER TO WATCH
James Rodriguez, Colombia – With Falcao’s status up in the air, James Rodriguez automatically becomes Colombia’s best and most important player. Rodriguez is just 22 and he will be looked upon to carry the Colombians out of Group C and into the knockout rounds. After a successful debut season in Monaco, Rodriguez looks primed to be a standout performer in Group C.
Giorgos Karagounis, Greece – The 37-year-old captain is vital to both the offensive and defensive side of the football. Karagounis is the glue that maintains the Greek’s defensive structure, as well as the man who is responsible for precision set-pieces. He is Greece’s all-time leader in caps, and will be a key cog in Greece’s efforts to advance past the group stage.
Didier Drogba, Ivory Coast – This is it for Drogba. His World Cup and international career is coming to an end, and all eyes should be on him when the Elephants hit the pitch. Of course, much of his World Cup success could be on the shoulder of midfielder Yaya Toure. Toure was an absolute beast this season in the Premier League, and he will be tasked with getting the ball to the head or foot of Drogba. Toure may be the best player on the team, but Drogba will be the one who will have to put the ball in the back of the net if the Ivory Coast is to make a deep tournament run.
Shinji Kagawa, Japan – Keisuke Honda pretty much put Japan on his back in 2010, but he won’t have to do it alone this time around. Kagawa is a solid midfielder who gives the Japanese another attacking option. Kagawa has been up-and-down since his arrival at Manchester United, but he has the ability and high-motor to help Japan get out of the group stage.
HOW THE GROUP WILL PLAY OUT
Group C isn’t really as clear-cut as one might think. Colombia and Ivory Coast look like the strongest candidates to advance to the knockout rounds, but Greece and Japan have proved that they can win on the biggest stage in the past. Colombians would feel much more confident about their squad advancing if Falcao was 100 percent healthy. That appears not to be the case, as his World Cup status is looking bleak. Still, the Colombians have a very talented roster that makes them a favorite in this group. The Ivory Coast has an aging roster, but their talent alone should be good enough to get them through to the next round. The schedule sets up nice for Colombia and Ivory Coast, as both teams could have three points when they face each other in the second game of the group stage. Japan and Greece will look to play spoiler in their respective game one’s. If either team is to win or draw in their first game, then this group becomes very interesting. I believe Japan and Greece will be very competitive in this group, but at the end of the day, Colombia and Ivory Coast will go through. Although, that may not be good news as the survivors of Group C play the survivors of a Group D that has the likes of Uruguay, Italy, and England.
Runner-Up: Ivory Coast