2014 World Cup Preview: Group C

Group C - Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan

Colombia
Ranked fifth in the world
Qualified with a second place finish in CONMEBOL after going 9-4-3.

After three straight appearances from 1990-1998, Colombia is finally back in the World Cup. Last time around, a Carlos Valderrama-led team fizzled out with a 1-2-0 record. With the tournament in South America, it will feel something like home for Colombia as it holds the top ranking in the group.

Led by former Atletico Madrid striker Radamel Falcao, who now plays from Monaco, Colombia plays a well-balanced style. Los Cafeteros have plenty of scoring options in Teofilo Gutierrez and Jackson Martinez. However, anytime they need a goal, Falcao is who they turn to, and for good reason – he has 20 goals in 51 caps, including nine in qualifying, behind only Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi.

Greece
Ranked 10th in the world
Went 8-1-1 in UEFA World Cup qualifying to finish second to Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Group Stage, needing a 4-2 series win over Romania to advance and qualify.

This is just the third ever World Cup tournament for Greece after falling out in the Group Stage in 1994 and 2010. Things were highly optimistic for Greece after winning the 2004 European Championship, but didn't materialize into anything at the World Cup, as it failed to qualify in 2006 and won just one match in the Group Stage in 2010. After an impressive run in qualifying and another quarterfinal appearance in the Euros, Ethniki comes into the 2014 World Cup with high expectations.

With 10 players on the roster aged 29 years old or older, it is a veteran group and one that has a closing window for success. Paced by the Fulham pair of forward Kostas Mitroglou and midfielder Giorgos Karagounis, as well as Celtic forward Giorgios Samaras and Roma defender Vasilis Torosidis, there is vast experience within the team. While Greece should be a favorite to advance, there are questions if the team's age will catch up to it in the heat of Brazil.

Ivory Coast
Ranked 21st in the world
Finished 4-0-2 in the Group Stage, then advanced past Senegal with a 4-2 series win to qualify out of CAF.

Ivory Coast has reached the last two World Cups, but difficult Group Stage placement has meant an early exit both years. In 2006, Les Elephants managed a 3-2 win over Serbia and Montenegro, but only after 2-1 oustings by both Argentina and Netherlands had eliminated them from contention. In 2010, Ivory Coast was greeted by Brazil, Portugal and North Korea in South Africa. After a scoreless draw against Portugal, things looked promising, but a 3-1 blasting by Brazil meant that the 3-0 win over North Korea wouldn't be enough to get through.

This team is littered with players with big-game experience, starting with captain Didier Drogba. The 36-year-old striker has 63 goals in 99 appearances and was a force at Chelsea for eight seasons, winning the Premier League title three times, four FA Cups, two League Cups and the 2011-2012 UEFA Champions League title. He is joined by the likes of Yaya Toure, Kolo Toure and Drogba's former Chelsea teammate Salomon Kalou, as Ivory Coast looks to crack the Round of 32 for the first time.

Japan
Ranked 47th in the world
Went 5-2-1 in the Group Stage to qualify out of Asia.

This is the fifth consecutive World Cup berth for Japan, with the Blue Samurai reaching the Round of 16 in 2002 as host, as well as in 2010 in South Africa. In both tournaments, a stingy defense nearly got Japan through to the quarterfinals, falling 1-0 to Turkey in 2002 and to Paraguay on penalties in 2010. In the two years it was eliminated in the Group Stage, Japan finished with a combined record of 0-5-1.

While the Japanese National Team is well-represented in Germany, its top players play in Italy and England. Keisuke Honda rose through Holland and Russia before landing with AC Milan this year, where he wears the No. 10 jersey. The 27-year-old playmaker has 20 goals in 53 appearances for Japan. Meanwhile, Shinji Kagawa rose to stardom with Dortmund from 2010-2012 and now is a regular for Manchester United. With 17 goals in 54 appearances for Japan, he makes a good partner for Honda.

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