Group C is a Group of Equals! No one is more equal than the other. The Group has four teams who all have legitimate and realistic hopes of qualifying to the Next Round.
The Group has been viewed by pundits as one of the easiest groups in the Round, but I disagree with that assertion, not just because the teams can all qualify but because we have sides of different qualities pit together.
Japan relies on flair and pace, Ivory Coast relies on its physical and intimidating presence, Colombia a very direct and attacking side, relies on the creativity of James Rodriguez and his Monaco team-mate, Falcao for goals, and Greece, though the least entertaining team in the group, are very organized, soak the pressure and hit on the break. Remember Euro 2004?
What a Group!
We’ll Preview the Elephants of Ivory Coast and the Samurai Blue of Japan!
Watch out for the Preview on Colombia and Greece tomorrow.
NICKNAME: The Elephants
CAPTAIN: Didier Drogba
FIFA RANKING: 21st
MOST CAPS: Didier Drogba (118)
MOST CAPS (Current Squad): Didier Drogba (118)
MOST GOALS: Didier Drogba (63)
MOST GOALS (Current Squad): Didier Drogba (63)
FIFA WORLD CUP APPEARANCES: 3 Times. Their first appearance was in 2006.
BEST PERFORMANCE AT THE WORLD CUP FINALS: Group Stage (2006 and 2010)
HEAD COACH: Sabri Lamouchi
PREFERRED FORMATION: 4-2-3-1/4-3-3
KEY PLAYER: Yaya Toure-
Forget the Birthday Cake saga! There’s no denying the fact that the Younger of the Toure is one of the best in his position. He can pass, dictate the tempo of the game, score goals, drive pass players, win tackles and this last season, has become deadly from the set-pieces (Free-Kicks), He scored four in total.
He was instrumental in Manchester City’s Premier League and Capital One Cup success; finding the back of the net 24 times.
Unfortunately with the National Team, He’s yet to hit such dazzling heights, as he’s most times, just like the rest of the ‘Golden Generation’, gone missing when it mattered most. Ivoriens back home would hope he brings his Club form to the Elephants Camp.
He is going to be crucial to the chances of Ivory Coast advancing from this Group.
Should He lead Ivory Coast to success, then he’ll have no worries about eating cake because lots of it would be waiting for him!
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR: Gervinho, Salomon Kalou, Wilfried Bony, Serge Aurier, Cheick Tiote and Didier Drogba
ROUTE TO FINALS: Topped Group C in the CAF Qualifying Section with 14 points, 5 clear of Morocco. To however get here, they saw off West African Rivals, Senegal in the play-off 4-2 on aggregate.
Ivory Coast is insanely blessed with a good number of Forwards not just in quantity but in quality.
Looking at those who’ll most likely start, there’s Gervinho who’s coming here on the back of a fantastic début season with AS Roma.
Champions League Winner, Kalou is another who’s had a fine season with French Side, Lille and has been unsurprisingly linked with a move to England.
They also have the Chief tormentor, Didier Drogba, who, despite being way past his best, is a defender’s nightmare any day.
On the Bench, they’ve got CSKA Moscow’s Seydou Doumbia and Swansea’s Record Signing and Top Scorer, Wilfried Bony.
For a team with such attacking threat, goal scoring shouldn’t be a problem.
The problem has been getting the best of these players as a collective unit.
Cote d’ Ivoire has over the years been blessed with a good number of full-backs most notably, Emmanuel Eboue.
However, none of them, including the Galatasaray fullback, has come close or has been hyped as Toulouse 21 year old sensation, Serge Aurier and that’s not without a good reason.
His defensive abilities are better than the former Arsenal man and while Eboue is good going forward, Aurier is even better, just at the age of 21.
It is not surprising that he’s been linked with a move to FA Cup Winners, Arsenal (Someone says the same Career Path? I don’t think so)
With the good number of attackers in the Ivory Coast Ranks, He could be an important outlet with his deadly deliveries which the likes of Doumbia, Bony and of course Didier Drogba would relish.
Do you know why Eboue is not going to the World Cup? A certain Serge Aurier just displaced Him!
WEIGHT OF EXPECTATION:
It’s surprising that a team of serial winners like Drogba, The Toure Brothers, Zokora and Kalou would succumb under the weight of playing for their National Team.
That’s has unfortunately been the case!
The 2006 and 2012 African Cup of Nations Runners-up Medals and Group exits in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups is the best showing of this highly talented team in the past decade.
They tend to choke under the weight of expectation and when you expect the best from them, they contrive to give their worst. Their 2013 Cup of Nations exit in the hands of the Super Eagles of Nigeria is a good illustration of how mentally fragile the Elephants are.
If they don’t manage to sort their mental or psychological issues before the Tourney, don’t be surprised if the Golden Generation comes back with the Golden Tag of being the first side to crash out.
The Central defence pairing of Kolo Toure and Didier Zokora is a disaster waiting to happen. They might have gone through the 2012 Cup of Nations without conceding but against the bigger sides at the bigger stage, the partnership has crumbled or flattered to deceive.
Kolo Toure and Zokora have lost yards of pace and against teams like Japan and Colombia with flair and guile players they would struggle.
How would you say Barry who kept 6 Clean Slates at the 2012 Cup of Nations is a weak link? Does that not sound unfair?
It does not! Until you test him from range, one might not really know the capabilities of the man between the sticks.
He doesn’t inspire confidence from a shaky defence, deals uncomfortably with long balls and shots, prone to flapping crosses and not your best bet for saving a spot-kick.
With all due respect, if Ivory Coast wants to go far in this tournament, then we’ll have to see a rejuvenated Barry or else every shot from range could end up as a goal which would be good for comedy or for Goal of the Tournament.
Over to you Barry! Prove Me Wrong!
Lamouchi is a fine Manager who’s stuck to the aggressive 4-2-3-1 and also has a calming presence.
His undoing is his lack of TOUCHLINE Presence to lead the Big Boys in the Team which is due to his inability to lay his mark on the team.
Also, in a couple of matches, he has shown a disturbing lack of direction as to how the team should play. When the team is expected to go for the broke, they tend to be too cautious. That is understandable considering the weakness of the defence but just imagine what it would be if He could set his attackers free.
I hope his cautionary approach doesn’t harm the Elephants chances.
“It’s a tight group though for Cote d’Ivoire it’s not as hard as the Group we were in at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. But having said that, it is far from easy. There is one of the best teams from South America, the strongest in Asia and Greece who are very hard-working and organized and one of the most difficult to play against in Europe.
We want to have a good opening game and we are going to make sure we prepare the players as well as possible so we arrive strong in Brazil.
We want to do better than we did at our last two appearances and make it to the Knock-out Stage”.
Unlike 2006 and 2010 World Cup where the Elephants were thrown into the Lion’s Den (Argentina and Netherlands in 2006, Brazil and Portugal in 2010), this looks a balanced group with the four teams all capable of progressing.
The Ivoriens would fancy their chances of qualifying especially with the strength in attack and one of the best midfielders, Yaya Toure in their ranks.
The defence is a suspect and the way they switch off is also worrying. Against attacking-minded teams like Colombia and Japan, the defence would have to at its best. Forwards like Falcao (if he gets to make it), Jackson Martinez, Adrian Ramos and Okazaki are not known for being generous with chances.
Against Greece, they should see most of the ball but should be wary of being caught on the break .They should avoid conceding first as the Greeks are good defensively.
Most importantly, this is the Golden Generation’s last opportunity. With the likes of Drogba and Kolo Toure most likely to quit after the World Cup, what better way would it be to bow out than end on a high in Brazil.
They’ll have to play as a team and as a collective unit. There’s talent in this side but they’ve relied too much on individual effort.
Should everything fall in place, they have what it takes to advance out of this tricky Group.
Should they advance, Italy, England and Uruguay and maybe Costa Rica lie in wait.
HEAD TO HEAD RECORD AGAINST GROUP OPPONENTS:
- Japan and the Ivory Coast have met thrice with the Asian Side winning twice and losing the other one in 2010.
- The Elephants and Colombia are yet to face at the International Stage. The World Cup would be the first.
- The same also applies to Greece. The Show piece in Brazil would be the Ivory Coast and the Greeks first meeting.
IVORY COAST 28 MAN PROVISIONAL SQUAD FOR THE WORLD CUP:
- GOALKEEPERS: Boubacar Barry (Lokeren), Sylvain Gbohouo (Sewe Sport), Ali Sangare Badra (ASEC Mimosas) and Sayouba Sande (Stabaek)
- DEFENDERS: Kolo Toure (Liverpool), Sol Bamba (Trabzonspor), Didier Zokora (Trabzonspor), Serge Aurier (Toulouse), Arthur Boka (VFB Stuttgart),Benjamin Angoua(Valenciennes), Ousmane Viera Diarrassouba (Caykur Rizespor), Constant Djakpa (Frankfurt), Brice Dja Djedje (Marseille),Jean-Daniel Akpa-Akpro (Toulouse).
- MIDFIELDERS: Yaya Toure (Manchester City), Cheick Tiote (Newcastle), Serey Die(Basel), Max Gradel (Saint Etienne),Didier Ya Konan (Hannover),Mathis Bolly ( Dusseldorf).
- FORWARDS: Gervinho (Roma), Didier Drogba (Galatasaray), Salomon Kalou (Lille), Wilfried Bony (Swansea), Seydou Doumbia (CSKA Moscow), Lacina Traore (Everton, on loan from Monaco) and Giovanni Sio (Basel).
WORLD CUP ODDS: 125/1
NICKNAME: Samurai Blue or Zac Japan
CAPTAIN: Makoto Hasebe
FIFA RANKING: 47th
MOST CAPS: Yasuhito Endo (141)
MOST CAPS (CURRENT SQUAD): Yasuhito Endo (141)
MOST GOALS: Kunishige Kamamoto (80)
MOST GOALS (CURRENT SQUAD): Shinji Okazaki, 38 goals in 73 Caps
FIFA WORLD CUP APPEARANCES: 5, First Appearance at the France 1998.
BEST PERFORMANCE AT THE WORLD CUP FINALS: Round of 16, 2002 and 2010
HEAD COACH: ALBERTO ZACCHERONI
PREFERRED FORMATION: 4-2-3-1
KEY PLAYER: Shinji Kagawa:
He might be under used and undervalued at Manchester United, but it’s a different thing altogether with the National Team.
His goal-scoring record is not the best but his ability to unlock the best of defences is World Class.
Much would be expected from him at the World Cup.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR: Keisuke Honda, Shinji Okazaki, Atsuto Uchida and Yuto Nagatomo
ROUTE TO FINALS: First in Group B in the Asian Qualifying Section
- They’ve got fullbacks in Yuto Nagatomo and Schalke’s Uchida who get forward and help the attack to devastating effect.
They are a strong side technically; they keep the ball very well and they have lots of flair and creativity.
- With Midfielders like Honda and Kagawa, the forwards can’t be short of through-balls and lots of creative play.
- For all of their technical strength, they lack the physical ability to combat the physical sides. They are prone to being overawed by the macho-men. They’ll have to find a way to navigate past Ivory Coast and Greece who are immense physically.
- The defence is also a suspect as they lack any top-class Centre Back. They conceded four against Italy in the Confederations Cup despite hitting three of their own and also conceded three against Brazil. Full backs also pumping forward don’t help an already fragile defence as it most times leaves them stretched.
For all the creativity in the side, it’s unfortunate that they lack a classic and deadly Number 9. Okazaki is the main man and most times, the Mainz Forward flatters to deceive. Apart from him, there’s no quality backup.
“It could be better, but it could be worse too. I’m am not just saying that because we have ended up in the same Group, but I have considered Colombia one of the World Cup Favourites well before the Final Draw.
They are a team that can mount a real challenge for the title, and everybody wanted to avoid them in the Group Phase. The fact everything well smoothly for us when we stayed in Brazil during the Confederations Cup will help a lot with our preparation in terms of travel and logistics.”
They’ll fancy their chances of qualifying. It’s difficult to say which match would be Group Decider as they are all fairly balanced sides with each match having its importance attached to it.
What’s however important is that they guard their rear, because in goal crazy group like this (Except Greece checks them all), it could be come down to Goal Difference.
A few clean sheets won’t be bad!
Should they advance, I doubt if they’ll improve on their Round of Sixteen Performance as the likes of Italy, The Three Lions, Uruguay and who knows, Costa Rica awaits them.
HEAD TO HEAD RECORD AGAINST GROUP OPPONENTS:
Japan and the Ivory Coast have met thrice with the Asian Side winning twice and losing the other one in 2010.
- The Samurai Blues and Colombia have previously met twice with the two playing out a nil-nil draw in the 2007 Kirin Cup and the other one ending 0-1 to Colombia in the 2003 Confederations Cup.
- Japan and Greece have met just once and that was at the 2005 Confederations Cup. It ended 1-0 in favor of Japan.
JAPAN’S 23 MAN SQUAD FOR THE WORLD CUP:
GOALKEEPERS: Eiji Kwashima (Standard Liege), Shusaku Nishikawa(Urawa Reds) and Shuichi Gonda (FCTokyo)
- DEFENDERS: Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo), Yusuyuki Konno (Gamba Osaka), Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Masahiko Inoha (Jubilo Iwata), Atsuto Uchida (Schalke 04), Hiroki Sakai (Hannover 96) and Gotoku Sakai (VFB Stuttgart).
- MIDFIELDERS: Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Keisuke Honda (AC Milan),Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United),Makoto Hasebe (FC Nuremberg),Hiroshi Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Hiroshi Kiyotake(FC Nuremberg) ,Toshihiro Aoyama (Sanfrecce Hiroshima) and Manabu Saito (Yokohama F.Marinos).
FORWARDS: Shinji Okazaki (Mainz),Yoichiro Kakitani (Cerezo Osaka),Yuya Osako(TSV Munich 1860) and Yoshito Okubo (Kawasaki Frontale).
WORLD CUP ODDS: 150/1
Who do you tip to Qualify from Group C?
Watch Out for the Preview on Colombia and Greece!