As we approach the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 12, the Sports Unbiased Crew will be releasing guides to help make better sense of what you watch as the world’s best soccer players converge on Brazil this summer. Check in regularly as we preview the eight groups, 32 teams, and key players that will play an integral role in determining the next world champion.
A group of regional powerhouses now has to face off against one another to see which two will make it out of Group C. Each team could technically see this group as an advantageous draw, given that none have experienced real success recently.
Only one of these four made it out of the group stage in South Africa four years ago, as Japan finished behind the Netherlands but ahead of both Denmark and Cameroon in Group E. Greece and the Ivory Coast both finished third in tough groups, their tournaments finished after the preliminaries. At least they made it to South Africa, though — Colombia hasn’t been to the World Cup in the 21st century, their last appearance coming in 1998 when France hosted the tournament.
Which team will have the upper hand in what could potentially be a wide-open group? Let’s now look quickly at each of the six matches that will determine the group standings and predict how the group will shake out. (All times Eastern.)
Colombia v. Greece/Belo Horizonte (June 14/12:00pm)
Before the 1994 World Cup, Colombia and Greece played a friendly at the Meadowlands in the only match the two nations have ever played against one another. The South Americans won 2-0 before bombing infamously out of the actual tournament on Escobar’s fatal own goal, and instead of building on a second-round appearance at Italy 1990 the Colombians instead continued a series of plummeting fortunes on the world’s biggest stage. Since winning the Copa América in 2001, the Colombians have failed to reach the World Cup once. In contrast, Greece has slowly built up a respectable mid-tier side in Europe, winning Euro 2004 and qualifying for just the second World Cup in the country’s history in 2010. Both teams are hot, and two decades after their last match their second showdown could end up even.
PREDICTION: 1-1 draw
Ivory Coast v. Japan/Recife (June 14/9:00pm)
Four years ago, these two teams matched up in a friendly in Sion in a World Cup warm-up. The Ivory Coast dominated the Japanese squad, winning 2-0, and this match could go much the same. Unlike the 2010 World Cup, when it was Brazil and Portugal keeping the Ivorians out of the knockout round (and the latter by only a point), there is not nearly as much standing in the path to qualification this time around. Japan has won its past two friendlies, but seven losses in 17 matches over the past calendar year indicates that Greece can match up well against fellow middleweights and has an inconsistent time against teams with greater skill. The African squad is one of those more skilled squads.
PREDICTION: 3-1 Ivory Coast
Colombia v. Ivory Coast/Brasilia (June 19/12:00pm)
Colombia would love nothing more than to pull off the upset in Brasilia. But as of this preview, they have not scored a goal in the run of play in over 200 minutes, and the smart money is on the Ivorian contingent. Working in the Colombians’ favor is the fact that the Ivory Coast hasn’t posted a clean sheet since June 2013, and from the beginning of 2013 the South Americans are undefeated with a 7-2-0 record when scoring at least one goal. And given that the African side has drawn three of its past four games, I have an odd feeling that this match will be fast, furious, and full of goal scoring. What it won’t have is a definitive conclusion.
PREDICTION: 3-3 draw
Japan v. Greece/Natal (June 19/6:00pm)
If either of these teams is going to advance, they have to take the full three points from this match. Nothing less will do, given that Colombia has been on good form and the Ivory Coast is the likeliest favorite. Nine years ago, the only match between these two national teams was played in Frankfurt at the Confederations Cup. Then Japan came out ahead 1-0. These days, both teams have been scoring far more goals, but the Greeks are far better at keeping them out of their own net. Japan should manage to get one in, but the real question is whether it is going to be enough. A decade after the greatest triumph in the nation’s soccer history, the Greeks will do one better.
PREDICTION: 2-1 Greece
Japan v. Colombia/Cuiabá (June 24/4:00pm)
After drawing against the Ivorian roster, the Colombians should have major confidence heading into their decisive group match against Japan. At the 2003 FIFA Confederations Cup, Colombia knocked off the Japanese 1-0 in Saint-Etienne, and with a qualifying position on the line after drawing their first two matches the South American crew will be hungry to make sure they don’t let just the second knockout phase in national history slip away. Japan will allow at least one against Mario Yepes and crew, and the recent history suggests that equates to victory for Colombia. Trying to make sure that they don’t run the risk of being eliminated on goal differential, they’ll push for a rout and win by two.
PREDICTION: 2-0 Colombia
Greece v. Ivory Coast/Fortaleza (June 24/4:00pm)
The Greeks are certainly solid defensively, as matches against Colombia and Japan will attest. Against the Ivory Coast, though, will the defense be solid enough to keep Didier Drogba and crew from solidifying their own passage to the next round? Assuming the Colombians defeat Japan as projected, Fernando Santos’ squad will have to win to guarantee passage or at least draw to have a shot. Either one of these teams could win the group with a victory, or they could be headed home from Brazil after just three matches. Greece should stymie the Ivorian side for the first hour, but look for a couple of late goals from the Africans to claim top position out of Group C.
PREDICTION: 2-1 Ivory Coast
Group C Prediction