I took a few days to organize my thoughts, contemplate the deep complexities of the World Cup draw and I have emerged on the other side, clairvoyant and somewhat pudgy. I did all of this contemplating at Buffalo Wild Wings.
On to Group C, then.
(Oh right. Mason and I are listening to Crazy by Gnarls Barkley, currently. Does that make me craaaaaazy?)
Group C: Colombia, Greece, Japan and Ivory Coast
Immediate reaction: Ooph do I like this group. I’m sure Colombia were pretty happy with this. Ivory Coast are still somewhat loaded but they routinely under perform. Japan are perpetually underdogs, despite obviously warranting respect after several years of steady progress. Greece, meanwhile, will probably be puffing up their chests to stand up to these middle-weights, but I think they get socked in the stomach repeatedly and the air blasts right back out, leaving a ruin reminiscent of their own government. Or something like that, I guess.
In Focus: Colombia
More so than Greece, Japan and even Ivory Coast, Colombia are spoiled with big-name players. Jackson Martinez of Porto, James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao, both of Monaco lead the line for the Tricolour. Inter Milan’s Fredy Guarin, one of the more experienced Colombia midfielders, reportedly secured a move to Chelsea in the past few days. Make of that what you will.
It’ll be interesting to watch Colombia. There’s no doubt that they’re good, but they haven’t really flexed their muscles on the international stage for some time. Their first World Cup appearance was in France ’98, at the end of the drug money and Colombia football craze (paging Mr. Escobar).
Their best FIFA performance was in the 2001 Copa America, which was hosted in Colombia. So it’ll be a positive that the World Cup is in South America. But that positive will also benefit Brazil, Chile, Argentina…
Personally, I’m not super impressed with Colombia. I’m weary of teams that are hyped after solid ‘off season’ performances. True, Colombia has some significant fire power and they finished second in their qualifying group, and in one of the final games of qualifying they managed to come back from a 3 goal deficit against Chile to tie the game.
But I think without Falcao people wouldn’t take this team that seriously. Perhaps they make me look like an idiot and they make a deep run. But I think defensive shortcomings hurt them. As does the fact that their team is a bit lopsided in terms of star power.
Anyway. They win this group and then lose to whoever wins Group D (stay tuned).
The Other Guy
Japan: My gut tells me Ivory Coast, but why would you trust your GI tract with a major life decision like this?
So I’m going with Japan.
On paper, Ivory Coast is the better team. The Brothers Toure, Didi Drogba (only Chelsea fans can call him Didi — that’s our word), Gervinho and a few youngsters. That’s pretty solid. Better than most of Africa (Nigeria may beg to differ, but they’re not here to argue with me).
But they underperform consistently.
Japan cruised to the top of their final qualifying group, losing just one of 8. Okazaki led Asia with 8 goals in 14 matches. Honda came in eleventh, with 5 goals in 6 games. Solid stats for both.
The headliners for the Blue Samurai are obviously Honda and Kagawa, two players who are in different moments in their career. Kagawa finds himself stranded at United, probably disappointed that he hasn’t received the chances he deserves there. Honda, meanwhile, is still sought after by a multitude of big clubs, and reportedly he’s on his way to Serie A come January. He shows up for Japan consistently as well.
A major selling point for this team is it’s depth and youth.The captain is 29 years old. The team it called up for its last set of friendlies had only 3 players over the age of 30, which is pretty solid — most are in the 24-26 range.
In addition to Honda and Kagawa, Okazaki and Endo will both prove important come June. Okazaki has an excellent scoring record for Japan, with a goal every other game.
Match of the Group
Japan v. Ivory Coast. As with the previous two groups, this match is critical because it should determine who advances out of the second spot. A draw probably will not do it for either team (although either may be able to sneak a draw over Colombia), so a winner is necessary. Japan wins this game, although Yaya Toure will try and put the team on his back.