Arguably the most open and difficult to predict of the eight sections, Group C involves four teams with no shared FIFA World Cup™ history whatsoever. What can be guaranteed is an intriguing inter-continental clash of styles, with Colombia’s South American flair going up against teams - Japan, Côte d’Ivoire and Greece - which typify their own regions’ traditional strengths. None of these four teams have ever been beyond the Round of 16 at a World Cup, and only Colombia and Japan have successfully negotiated the group phase.
Japan-Côte d’Ivoire: The battle between Asia and Africa, the intricacy of the Samurai Blue pitted against the pace and power of Les Elephants, looks sure to provide a real footballing feast when these teams meet in Recife in their opening fixture. A win for either side would also represent a massive step towards the Round of 16.
Colombia began the South American qualifiers well enough, collecting four points from their first two games before defeat at home to Argentina in their third outing spelled the end of Leonel Alvarez’s reign as coach. The arrival of Jose Nestor Pekerman as his replacement represented a turning point for Los Cafeteros in their journey to Brazil 2014, with the Argentinian coach overseeing a run of five wins in their next six games, a sequence that put them firmly on course for the finals.
Greece enjoyed an excellent qualification campaign. Their points total of 25 from their ten games would have been enough to see them through as winners in five of the other eight groups; instead, they had to endure a play-off after losing out on goal difference to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Five of their eight victories were secured with 1-0 scorelines, and it was only against Group G’s eventual winners that the Greeks dropped points after a 0-0 draw at home and a 3-1 defeat in Zenica.
Côte d’Ivoire breezed through their opening qualifying group with four wins from their six matches. They scored 15 goals to five conceded, and their only dropped points came from two draws against their biggest rivals Morocco. Their home-and-away play-off was much trickier however as a resurgent Senegal stood in their way. For the final quarter of an hour of the second leg, the Senegalese were one goal away from knocking out the Elephants on away goals at 3-2 aggregate, but Salomon Kalou’s late goal settled the tie and sent the Ivorians into their third consecutive World Cup finals.
The mammoth, two-year qualifying campaign saw Japan progress game-by-game under Alberto Zaccheroni, who took over in the wake of the team’s impressive run at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. The new-look Japan were struggling to fit into the Italian’s strategy as they began their qualifying bid in lacklustre style, losing to Uzbekistan and Korea DPR before seeing their progression into the fourth round secured.
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