2014 World Cup Brazil: Group C Preview

June 7, 2014

If Group B is the Group of Death, then Group C is about as close to the opposite to that as you can get. Things look wide open for the four teams in Group C, with injuries and uncertainty giving every squad a legitimate shot to move on to the knockout stage. Nothing short of complete chaos would surprise most people from this group.

Let’s preview Group C.

Hi, My Name Is… (Players to Watch)

Yaya Touré, Ivory Coast midfielder

Almost everyone on the planet knows who Didier Drogba is even if they don’t watch world football, but the name Yaya Touré is only a household name if you follow the game. While Drogba is still a force to be reckoned with in the middle, it is the younger Touré who could be the key to Ivory Coast finally breaking through to the knockout stage. As one of the best passers in the game, Touré rarely squanders potential chances for his side and is instrumental in the offensive attack.

In 2013, the 31-year old had his most prolific calendar year on the international stage since being called up in 2004, scoring six goals in 11 appearances. Scoring isn’t what his squad needs him to be best at, but assuming his pass completion rate hovers around the 91 percent that it was during the last World Cup, it’s an added bonus. If the Ivory Coast has success, expect to hear Touré’s name quite a bit.

Shinji Okazaki, Japan striker

Japan typically plays a terrific team game without many star performers, but its workhorse at striker could gain a following similar to that of fellow Japanese Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda with a strong tournament showing. Okazaki had a career year in the German Bundesliga last season and led the Asian section of qualification with eight goals, making him the most likely candidate to become the face of a Japanese attack that is difficult to stop when it pushes.

However, even more impressive than Okazaki’s goal scoring abilities is his motor. Like several other key pieces on the Japan side, Okazaki is capable of going the full 90 minutes and still being effective. Don’t be surprised if Japan is competitive in this group because players like Okazaki slip in a late goal or two against a tiring opponent.

They’ll Move On If…

Colombia – Forwards such as Teofilo Gutierrez and Jackson Martinez can step up in place of the injured Radamel Falcao, who led the team with nine goals in qualification. It won’t be easy, and you also have to wonder whether the inexperienced Colombian side will flinch at the onset of adversity without its star striker.

Greece – Ball control is in its favor and the defense completely stifles all three opponents. Greece hasn’t been known for pushing offensively, and against teams such as Colombia and the Ivory Coast it’ll be hard to win without scoring. Lighting doesn’t usually strike twice and for Greece it already did once, at the 2004 Euro Cup.

Ivory Coast – The aging stars play as a team and the defense is serviceable. Ivory Coast has been in the Group of Death the past two World Cups and this is finally the year where the African squad isn’t over-matched by its opponents. However, the biggest issue for the Elephants has been that individualism often trumps teamwork. The talent is there for this team to move on to the knockout stage.

Japan – The defense plays better than it did in the 2013 Confederations Cup. Japan is aggressive on the attack and has a strong midfield presence, but it won’t mean much to score three goals if four are conceded. It appeared in qualification that the issues in Brazil last summer had been solved, as Japan only allowed eight goals in 14 games down the stretch. Those issues have to be a thing of the past if this team is to move to the knockout stage.

Most Crucial Matches

Ivory Coast vs. Japan (June 14, 9 PM ET)

The midfield play in this match should be incredible. That being said, the possession game will be important and shots taken will need to be on target. The team that sets up the attack better will have the advantage, although Japan appears to have an edge on the defensive end. There is a good chance this game could end up as a draw, but don’t be surprised if several balls find the back of the net in the process. Neither team is afraid to push, and both have the personnel to do it extremely effectively. By the end of the group stage, this game could prove to be pivotal in deciding which team ends up 1C.

Colombia vs. Ivory Coast (June 19, 12 PM ET)

This game pits the experienced (Ivory Coast) against the newbies (Colombia). Despite Colombia coming in as the more complete squad, the Ivory Coast can use its experience in previous World Cups to its advantage, especially if the Colombian side is coming off of a disappointing result in its first match. It will be important that Yaya Touré and the rest of the Ivory Coast midfield take good care of the football, because takeaways in the opposing zone result in quick chances by Colombia. I expect that the winner of this game will also be the winner of Group C, so this is a match of particular importance not only to supporters of each side but also to fans of Group D squads.

How They’ll Finish (picks in bold move on to Knockout Stage)

1. Ivory Coast – 5 points

2. Japan – 5 points

3. Colombia – 3 points

4. Greece – 1 point

– K. Becks

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