World Cup Group C - Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan
In what is possibly the hardest World Cup group to predict, Columbia, Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan pose an interesting clash of styles, and Jonathan Nightingale has a hard time calling a clear winner of this fascinating group…
With Colombia being the seeded team it may be the easy option to pinpoint them as the main threat and the likeliest qualifiers. Los Cafeteros are no slouches, finishing just two points behind South America group winners Argentina.
However, star man Radamel Falcao lost his race to be fit for the finals, having been included in the provisional 30-man squad. Much of the build-up has centred around Falcao taking centre stage against the world’s best but the 28-year-old suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury back in January and has lost his fight to make the finals.
Hope is far form lost though. Jackson Martinez of Porto has been in fine form once again this season, scoring 26 goals in 40 league and cup games. Also amongst their ranks is the talented James Rodriguez. Rodriguez was in-demand in the off-season last year before Monaco secured his signature in a £38.5m switch from Porto and have reaped the rewards - nine goals and 12 assists from 34 Ligue 1 appearances. What has impressed the most is his attacking flair and eye for passing, taking 91 shots at goal.
Japan, Greece and Ivory Coast will all pose a real test to Colombia and to each other. The likes of Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure and Wilfred Bony, to name just three, provide the African side with power matching their ability.
Les Elephants will fancy themselves this time round for qualification having been handed tough groups at each of the last two tournaments - finishing third twice, first to Spain and Holland in 2006 and then Brazil and Portugal four years later. Other familiar faces include Cheick Tiote, Toure’s brother Kolo, and former England-based players Gervinho, Didier Zokora and Max Gradel.
Greece rounded off a strong qualification campaign by finishing agonisingly close to group winners Bosnia and Herzegovina, coming second on goal difference.
Since stunning Europe and winning Euro 2004 Greece have experienced disappointing tournaments - failing to qualify for the 2006 World Cup and losing all three games at Euro 2008, scoring just one goal. 2010 brought better performances but ultimately a third placed group finish with just one win and two goals scored.
Fernando Santos has since taken over from Otto Rehhagel. Santos ushered in a new era for Greek football and the country qualified for Euro 2012 without a single defeat, eventually losing 4-1 in the quarter-finals against Germany. Santos has included £11m Fulham singing Konstantinos Mitroglou, who only played 120 minutes of football since his move in January.
Japan come into the tournament as Asian champions and will hope to make an impact on the finals. This is their fifth consecutive World Cup but they have never made it past the last 16 of the competition.
Their squad is full of talent and players who like to play a passing and pressing game. Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda are seen as the individuals that can unlock opposition defences, alongside cult hero Yasuhito Endo - the Gamba Osaka player is revered in Japan and will be hoping to add to his national record 141 national caps.
See what the expert tipsters are tipping on OLBG