Monday, January 20, 2014

2014 World Cup Preview: Group C

You can read previous previews here.


Group C: Colombia, Ivory Coast, Japan, Greece (aka the "Superstars and Set Pieces" group)

Out of all the ridiculously intriguing groups in this World Cup, I'm most excited to watch the Group C games. If I was a full-time blogger, could work from home, or simply sat on my ass all day like a slob, I would make sure to watch every one of these games live. I'm really not that well-versed on the tactics, players, or playing style of Greece or Colombia, but then again, those might not even matter. It's the World Cup. Shit happens.

Prediction: Japan win group, Colombia 2nd. UPDATE: FALCAO IS OUT

New Prediction: Japan win group, Ivory Coast second. All further analysis of Colombia is null and void.


"WHAT?!" I hear you cry as you read this swashbuckling prediction. "There's no way he can actually believe that Japan will WIN this group, is there?? For the love of Godzilla, they're the fourth lowest-ranked team in the WHOLE TOURNAMENT!"

I hear you. I do. But let's work through this anger together. Crack open a Sapporo and let the sheer brilliance of the Japanese soccer machine wash over you.

There are three reasons why Japan will win this group. First, and most importantly, they have Keisuke Honda. He's easily the most dynamic player in this group, which includes the unearthly talents of Radamel Falcao and Didier Drogba. Don't believe me? Watch this.

If you're easily distracted, skip to 1:20. It's the goal in the thumbnail. That defines Rip City.

World Cup squads don't have months to train and play multiple matches together, like clubs do. They have about a month between the end of most European seasons and the start of the World Cup. That's not enough time to form complicated tactical plans, which is often why the superstars shine through on the world stage (the exception is Spain's team-based pass and move approach, which was honed at Barcelona, where roughly half the Spanish team plays).

With no time for tactics, two things win the day at the World Cup - individual skill and set pieces. Honda happens to have a monopoly on both.

The second reason Japan will win this group? They have a player who is BETTER than Keisuke Honda. Remember that guy up there with the goals? Yeah, he's nice. But (fun fact of the day alert!) the cog at the center of the midfield of the most famous club in the world will be playing alongside Honda with Japan. His name is Shinji Kagawa, he plays for Manchester United, he's 24, and he's DIRTY.

Notice anything different about these two videos? Honda's are goals, and Kagawa's are skills. And some goals, but mostly skills, passes, one-touch balls, and through balls. The kinds of things that can combine with and spring a goalscorer like Honda or Shinji Okazaki (scorer of 36 national-team goals). Superstars and set pieces win games in the World Cup, folks.

The third reason they'll come out tops of this group? The way they play. The Japanese always play, tight, intelligent, measured soccer. They (cliche alert!) work as a unit, defend in packs, and rarely get caught out of position. I can easily see them beating Greece and the Ivory Coast with this approach, and holding heavily favored Colombia to a draw.


Hey girl. Disregard the fact that I look like Pocahontas's dad.
There are two things I know about the Colombian national football team, other than the fact that they're from Colombia.

1. They are ranked fourth in the world according to FIFA. 
2. They have Radamel Falcao. 

FIFA world rankings are ridonkulously flawed, as they don't take into account things like goal differential, roster selection, and who had home field advantage. However, they're still rankings. And it's better to be ranked higher than lower. And there are only 3 teams ranked higher than Colombia.

Secondly, that guy up there is Radamel Falcao, and although he's built like a cross between a linebacker and a rhinocerous, he plays forward for Colombia. And, as you'd expect, he's a fucking monster.

Skip to :43 if you have no time and just want to see a cannon of a shot from Falcao's weaker foot. It's basically a fadeaway three-pointer with your opposite hand.

Colombia's World Cup hopes suffered a massive blow as the Rad Falcon (that's my new nickname for him) went down with a knee injury in January, but his doctors have given him a 55% chance of suiting up in Brazil. And that's good enough for me.

Like I said earlier, the importance of set pieces and superstars are magnified at World Cups, and I don't see anyone with the possible exception of the Ivory Coast having the size, speed, and skill in the back to contend with Falcao.

Also, Colombia borders Brazil. Words you will hear a lot of if you watch these group games: "climate," "travel," "adjustments," "crowd noise," "home field advantage," "fatigue," and "environment." Colombia has a huge geographical advantage. I still think Japan takes this group somehow, but that's a bold prediction, and the smart money is probably on Colombia. Sometimes I try to outsmart the money.

Ivory Coast.

God this group is going to be so fun to watch. Didier Drogba. Salomon Kalou. Yaya Toure. I'm beginning to rethink my predictions of this group. Ivory Coast has a talented core of extremely physical and athletic players that have been through the battles together. Plus they have Drogba, scorer of 62 international goals and whistleblower of several fucking disgraces:

For some reason, I see the Elephants (yeah, that's their nickname) dropping points to Japan and Colombia despite their more physical style of play. Japan plays a very controlled game and can strike on counters and set pieces, and Colombia's games will seem like they're being played in Bogota. Plus, the Ivorians have never been known for their patience, and I can see them getting a bit fed up and chippy, which never works out well in the World Cup.


Greece is an enigma to me. They came in second in their 6-team qualifying group, collecting the same amount of points as Bosnia-Herzegovina (25, when the next closest team had 13) but losing on goal differential (Greece was +8 while B-H was an astonishing +24). They're ranked 12th in the world, but they don't have anyone who jumps out at you as a star player. Forward Giorgios Samaras is perhaps their most famous player, and he has a whopping 8 goals in 70 international matches. Yowzers. I just feel that they'll be outlasted by the Japanese, outgunned by the Ivorians, and outworked by the Colombians.

Hunches on hunches in this group, I know. They were some bold picks, Cotton, let's see if they work out for me.

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