9 Pivotal Factors That Will Decide FIFA World Cup 2014 Group C
There’s not a lot to separate the four sides that were drawn into Group C of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Colombia, seeded into the bracket as the fifth-ranked team in the world, can be considered slight favourites, although they’ve only been to the round of 16 once in their history and haven’t even participated in this tournament since 1998.
Greece, meanwhile, have done little on the international stage since winning Euro 2004 and crashed out at the first hurdle four years ago in South Africa.
Then, there are Ivory Coast and Japan: one, a golden generation of players still looking for that elusive piece of silverware and the other, a continental heavyweight that, like every other side in the group, has never been beyond the last 16.
No doubt progression will be decided by the slimmest of margins, and over the next nine slides, we’ll highlight the pivotal factors that will decide the fate of Group C.
9. Shinji Kagawa, and His Woeful Club Form
On paper, Japan’s group of attackers are among the most intriguing in the World Cup.
Keisuke Honda is coming off a half season at AC Milan and has scored 20 goals for his country; Mainz forward Shinji Okazaki scored 15 Bundesliga goals in 2013-14.
But none of it will matter unless Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa can shake the club form that has seen him disappoint since joining the Red Devils from Borussia Dortmund in 2012.
Japan need the Kagawa of 2011, when he helped Dortmund to the title and scored six international goals in 11 matches.
8. Kostas Mitroglou and the Greek Attack
In 10 qualification matches in UEFA’s Group G, Greece managed only 12 goals.
Not surprisingly, their progression to the play-offs—in which they beat Romania 4-2 over two legs—was down in large part to their competent, cohesive defensive play. But if they stand a chance of making an impact in Brazil, they’ll need to find the back of the net with more regularity.
Enter Kostas Mitroglou.
Before what proved to be a disappointing move to Fulham of the Premier League, the former Olympiacos striker was absolutely on fire, scoring 17 goals in 19 club matches and providing a further two in qualifying.
Then, against Romania, he scored in both legs to send Greece into the World Cup.
7. Didier Drogba’s Swan Song
Never underestimate a player in “legacy mode.”
Didier Drogba, now 36, is almost certainly playing in his final World Cup and perhaps his last international competition altogether.
In 101 appearances for his country, he’s scored 65 times, and he’ll have Ivory Coast on his back from the moment they kick off against Japan on June 14.
Now, winning the World Cup is likely outside the realm of possibility for the powerful striker, but before all is said and done, he’ll surely have made some kind of impact—and of that, his group-stage opponents will have to be very, very aware.
6. Japan’s World Cup Experience
Japan have become a regular contestant at the FIFA World Cup, and that experience could be to their benefit in the 2014 instalment of the competition.
After qualifying for the first time ahead of France ’98, the Blue Samurai made it through to the round of 16 in the World Cup they co-hosted. Then, after a disappointing 2006 tournament, they once again progressed to the knockout round in South Africa.
They took Paraguay all the way to penalties in Pretoria, and needless to say, they’ll be extra motivated to finally make a quarter-final breakthrough this time around.
5. The End of Ivory Coast’s Golden Generation
Ivory Coast have been knocking on the door for years, particularly at the Africa Cup of Nations. And when a squad came through that included the likes of Drogba, Didier Zokora, Salomon Kalou, Bakari Kone and Yaya and Kolo Toure, it seemed only a matter of time before they won some silverware.
But it’s never happened.
Runner-up at the 2006 Cup of Nations, they lost on penalties in the 2012 final and came in fourth in 2008.
They’ve also never advanced from the group stage at a World Cup finals, and doing just that—and maybe winning their round of 16 match—would be enough for them to go out with their heads held high.
4. Colombia’s Supplementary Scoring
Colombia cannot assume injured striker Radamel Falcao will be at the World Cup, and as a result, they'll be looking for supplementary goalscoring from throughout the line-up.
James Rodriguez, who scored three times in CONMEBOL qualifying, was the only Colombia player to find the back of the net in a March friendly against Tunisia (the match ended 1-1). The likes of Teofilo Gutierrez, Jackson Martinez and Adrian Ramos will be counted on as well.
Los Cafeteros had the best defensive record in qualifying, but their true strength is upfront, and making proper use of it will require scoring by committee.
Given that none of the teams at the 2014 FIFA World Cup will play their group-stage matches in a particular region, travel distances will be long and inequitable.
In Group C, Ivory Coast will travel 3,349 kilometres between Recife, Brasilia and Fortaleza, which is more than twice the distance covered by Colombia, which will travel about 1,500 kilometres from Belo Horizonte to Brasilia to Cuiaba.
Japan, meanwhile, will cover 2,782 kilometres and Greece will traverse 2,269.
If travel fatigue becomes a factor, it certainly stands to benefit Colombia.
2. Yaya Toure Can Win Matches on His Own
We saw it time and again over the course of the 2013-14 season.
Midfielder Yaya Toure, who had never scored more than 10 goals in a single campaign, found the back of the net 24 times for Manchester City last term, and 20 of his tallies came in the Premier League.
The 31-year-old has a rare combination of power, pace, vision and smarts, and when you put it all together, you have a player who can win matches on his own.
No doubt, Ivory Coast will be hoping he does just that in Brazil.
1. Jose Pekerman's Experience
Only Colombia have a manger with a World Cup finals on his CV.
In 2006, Jose Pekerman took Argentina to the quarter-finals of the tournament in Germany, and along the way, his side played the most uptempo, attacking football of the competition.
The 64-year-old will be able to draw on that experience in Brazil, and in that, he separates himself from Japan's Alberto Zaccheroni, Greece’s Fernando Santos and Ivory Coast’s Sabri Lamouchi.