THIS group is going to be an open affair. All four sides have what it takes to come out from this group. I had a tough time predicting the outcome. Colombia is back after they last qualified for the World Cup in 1998. The other three teams have featured in the previous World Cup. All of them can be menacing when on form.
The last time they played in the World Cup, they were booted out of the group. Collecting only three points, the team was fancied to do well after flunking in 1994 but otherwise happened. This time around, the current team did well in the qualifiers and are fancied to qualify for the next round. They have been dubbed as one of the best Colombian teams and one player - Radamel Falcao - who was expected to lead that assault is now injured. This is a big blow for the Colombians and Jose Pekermen will be hoping that his other players will step-up to replace his talisman. However, Colombia is still the favourites to come out first in this group. James Rodriguez, Juan Guillermo Cuadrado and Luis Muriel will provide ammunition for Jackson Martinez and Teofilo Gutierrez and their defense led by Christian Zapata and Luis Perea will be rock solid too. I’m expecting them to impress this time!
Goalkeepers: David Ospina (Nice), Faryd Mondragon (Deportivo Cali), Camilo Vargas (Independiente Santa Fe);
Defenders: Mario Yepes (AC Milan), Cristian Zapata (AC Milan), Pablo Armero (West Ham, on loan from Napoli), Camilo Zuniga (Napoli), Santiago Arias (PSV Eindhoven), Eder Alvarez Balanta (River Plate), Carlos Valdes (San Lorenzo);
Midfielders: Fredy Guarin (Inter Milan), Juan Cuadrado (Fiorentina), James Rodriguez (Monaco), Abel Aguilar (Toulouse), Juan Fernando Quintero (Porto), Carlos Sanchez (Elche), Aldo Leao Ramirez (Morelia), Alexander Mejia (Atletico Nacional);
Forwards: Victor Ibarbo (Cagliari), Jackson Martinez (Porto), Carlos Bacca (Sevilla), Adrian Ramos (Hertha Berlin), Teofilo Gutierrez (River Plate).
Veterans will be the key players for Ivory Coast! Didier Drogba still features regularly for his national side while the likes of Didier Zokora, Kolo Toure and Yaya Toure continue to play a key role for the ‘Elephants’. Ivory Coast finished third in the 2010 World Cup group stage behind Brazil and Portugal. This time around, they’ve been earmarked to qualify from this group but all their opponents can be tricky. The burden shouldn’t be on the veterans only. Sabri Lamouchi will be hoping that the likes of Gervinho, Serge Aurier and Cheikh Tiote will reduce the burden of the veterans. This will be Didier Drogba’s final World Cup and he will be hoping to end his international career on a high!
Goalkeepers: Boubacar Barry (Lokeren), Sylvain Gbohouo (Sewe Sport), Sayouba Sande (Stabaek);
Defenders: Kolo Toure (Liverpool), Sol Bamba (Trabzonspor), Didier Zokora (Trabzonspor), Serge Aurier (Toulouse), Arthur Boka (Stuttgart), Ousmane Viera Diarrassouba (Caykur Rizespor), Constant Djakpa (Frankfurt), Jean-Daniel Akpa-Akpro (Toulouse);
Midfielders: Yaya Toure (Manchester City), Cheick Tiote (Newcastle), Serey Die (Basel), Max Gradel (Saint Etienne), Diomande Ismael (Saint Etienne), Didier Ya Konan (Hannover), Mathis Bolly (Dusseldorf);
Forwards: Gervinho (Roma), Didier Drogba (Galatasaray), Salomon Kalou (Lille), Wilfried Bony (Swansea), Giovanni Sio (Basel).
Industrious yet skillful! Japan have improved so much! Top teams have struggled against them and last month, they surprised Netherlands in a friendly by holding them to a 2-2 draw. Led by Alberto Zaccheroni, Japan is known for the industrious players and skillful lads like Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda. They are one of the best Asian sides and the reigning Asian champions will look to stun the world by qualifying to the second round. They have what it takes to do so and teams like Greece and Ivory Coast will have to be wary of that. Colombia will also face stern opposition from the Japanese but the South Americans are far superior thanks to their technique and world class players! European players like Kagawa, Honda, Yuta Nagatomo, Atsuto Uchida and Hiroshe Kiyotake will play a pivotal role but also expect the J-league lads like veteran Yasuhito Endo and Yasuyuki Konno to play a key role too!
Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Standard Liege), Shusaku Nishikawa (Urawa Reds), Shuichi Gonda (FC Tokyo);
Defenders: Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo), Yasuyuki Konno (Gamba Osaka), Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Masahiko Inoha (Jubilo Iwata), Atsuto Uchida (Schalke 04), Hiroki Sakai (Hannover 96), Gotoku Sakai (VfB Stuttgart);
Midfielders: Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Keisuke Honda (AC Milan), Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United), Makoto Hasebe (FC Nuremberg), Hiroshi Kiyotake (FC Nuremberg), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Toshihiro Aoyama (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Manabu Saito (Yokohama F. Marinos);
Forwards: Shinji Okazaki (Mainz), Yoichiro Kakitani (Cerezo Osaka), Yuya Osako (TSV Munich 1860), Yoshito Okubo (Kawasaki Frontale).
If they were to turn out as the 2004 European champions Greece squad, they will not survive in this group. Such is the ammunition in this group, Greece will have to adopt a balanced play rather than a defensive one. Led Portuguese manager Fernando Santos, Greece has many technical and skillful players this time. Otto Rehhagel relied on players physicality to win Euro 2004 but Santos prefers a more tactical approach and that has helped Greece developed their game. Giorgios Karagounis still plays for the national team but this time, the talisman is another player. Kostas Mitroglou was sensational for his former club Olympiakos and single handedly brought them to the second round of the UEFA Champions League. But since joining Fulham,, he wasn’t able to replicate his good form but Greece will hope to see the best of him during the World Cup. They have an exciting squad but will it be enough for them to come out from this group? Only time will tell…
Goalkeepers: Orestis Karnezis (Granada), Panagiotis Glykos (PAOK), Stefanos Kapino (Panathinaikos);
Defenders: Kostas Manolas, Giannis Maniatis, Jose Holebas (all Olympiakos), Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Borussia Dortmund), Giorgios Tzavellas (PAOK), Loukas Vyntra (Levante), Vasilis Torosidis (Roma), Vangelis Moras (Verona);
Midfielders: Alexandros Tziolis (Kayserispor), Andreas Samaris (Olympiakos), Kostas Katsouranis (PAOK), Giorgos Karagounis (Fulham), Panagiotis Tachtsidis (Torino), Ioannis Fetfatzidis (Genoa), Lazaros Christodoulopoulos (Bologna), Panagiotis Kone (Bologna);
Forwards: Dimitris Salpingidis (PAOK), Giorgios Samaras (Celtic), Konstantinos Mitroglou (Fulham), Theofanis Gekas (Konyaspor).
Colombia will be the favourites to come out first in this group. Japan, Ivory Coast and Greece to fight it out for the second spot. All these teams can be a menace and let’s hope that these sides produce good displays and enthrall fans in Brazil!
England, Uruguay, Italy and Costa Rica will fight it out for two berths to the second round of World Cup 2014 in Brazil. England’s head coach Roy Hodgson lamented the draw while others talked about how they have to just get on with it. All the teams in this group played at World Cup 2010 in South Africa and three of them – England, Uruguay and Italy – qualified for the second round of the tournament. This time though, one of them will not make it. Two teams are sure to falter in this group. But which ones?
Roy Hodgson has already said that England will have a tough time surviving this group. Fans and pundits have echoed Hodgson’s sentiment and some of these have predicted England losing out to Uruguay and Italy. Nevertheless, anything can happen! I’ve always seen England as an overrated team and their only beacon of hope at this World Cup is Wayne Rooney. True, it’s good to know that players like Jack Wilshere and Steven Gerrard have no problems playing against big guns but England will be hoping that more men step up to the plate. Roy Hodgson is a good tactician and as a football coach, has enjoyed much success, but will he be successful with England? The team did well in a tricky qualifying group comprising Ukraine and Poland and it’s fair to say Hodgson passed that test. This one however, be tougher and the onus will be on the manager to do better than his predecessors. Rooney, of course, will be the main man for the Three Lions if selected, yet, expect contributions from veterans like Frank Lampard, Gerrard and Phil Jagielka as they seek to end their international careers on a high in Rio.
Goalkeepers: Fraser Forster (Celtic), Ben Foster (West Bromwich Albion), Joe Hart (Manchester City);
Defenders: Leighton Baines (Everton), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Phil Jagielka (Everton), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Phil Jones (Manchester United), Luke Shaw (Southampton), Chris Smalling (Manchester United);
Midfielders: Ross Barkley (Everton), Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson (both Liverpool), Adam Lallana (Southampton), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), James Milner (Manchester City), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Raheem Sterling (Liverpool), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal);
Forwards: Rickie Lambert (Southampton), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Danny Welbeck (Manchester United).
Organised, talented and disciplined – traits that best describe the Uruguayan national football team. Under Oscar Tabarez, Uruguay have done well in every international tournament they’ve participated in in the last four years. Fourth at World Cup 2010, 2011, Copa America champions in 2011 and fourth at last year’s Confederations Cup, many pundits are expecting Uruguay to come out guns blazing and continue to impress. The team are known for their strong defenders and industrious midfielders but the ones who will make the difference are the strikers. In Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, they’ve got a duo that can wreak havoc. Luis Suarez has proven time and time again that he is a mercurial talent while Edinson Cavani is known for his physical strength and ability to score wonderful goals. Uruguay have got an experienced squad and I’m sure Tabarez will play stalwarts like Diego Godin, Alvaro Pereira, Arevalo Rios, Fernando Muslera and Diego Perez in Rio.
Goalkeepers: Rodrigo Munoz (Libertad), Fernando Muslera (Galatasaray), Martin Silva (Vasco da Gama);
Defenders: Martin Caceres (Juventus), Sebastian Coates (Liverpool), Jorge Fucile (Porto), Jose Maria Gimenez (Atletico Madrid), Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid), Diego Lugano (West Brom), Alvaro Pereira (Inter), Maxi Pereira (Benfica);
Midfielders: Egidio Arevalo (Tigres UANL), Walter Gargano (Parma), Alvaro Gonzalez (Lazio), Nicolas Lodeiro (Botafogo), Diego Perez (Bologna), Gaston Ramirez (Southampton), Cristian Rodriguez (Atletico Madrid);
Forwards: Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain), Diego Forlan (Cerezo Osaka), Abel Hernandez (Palermo), Cristhian Stuani (Espanyol), Luis Suarez (Liverpool).
Under Cesare Prandelli, Italy have done away with the Cattaneccio system. With a good mix of young and experienced players, you can expect Italy to make it to the next round. It’s going to be a bruising affair of course but if the likes of Mario Balotelli can keep his cool, they’re going to be one of the favourites for the cup. At the 2013 Confederations Cup, Italy finished third behind Spain and champions Brazil. 56-year-old head coach Prandelli is stepping down after World Cup, so he’s bound to go all out here to prove a point. Italy have always been known for their strong defence and it’s the same this time around as well. Gianluigi Buffon will play in his fifth world cup and his experience will be important to spur the team forward. And he will be protected by his Juventus teammates Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. Meanwhile, Balotelli and Antonio Cassano should serve as the side’s main attackers.
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris St Germain), Mattia Perin (Genoa);
Defenders: Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorigo Chiellini (all Juventus), Gabriel Paletta (Parma), Ignazio Abate, Mattia De Sciglio (both AC Milan), Matteo Darmian (Torino);
Midfielders: Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio (both Juventus), Thiago Motta, Marco Verratti (both Paris St Germain), Daniele De Rossi (AS Roma), Antonio Candreva (Lazio), Marco Parolo (Parma), Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina);
Forwards: Mario Balotelli (AC Milan), Antonio Cassano (Parma), Alessio Cerci (Torino), Ciro Immobile (Torino), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli).
Los Ticos are expected to finish last in this group. The CONCACAF nation will find it really tough to survive in the face of three illustrious opponents. They can only hope for the best and maybe pray that Jorge Luis Pinto is capable of one or two miracles. In the past, Costa Rica had players like Paulo Wanchope, Ronald Gomez and Winston Parks. These days though they have guys like Bryan Oviedo, Joel Campbell, Bryan Ruiz, Christian Bolanos and Keylor Navas. The question is: Are these new guys capable of beating the other sides in Group B? Ruiz for one, had a poor season with Fulham but found some of his form at PSV Eindhoven while Oviedo missed the World Cup after suffering a horrific injury slightly more than a week ago. The other three – Campbell, Bolanos and Navas – meanwhile, are regulars for their clubs but they aren’t players who make a big difference. It’s going to be a real struggle for Costa Rica.
Goalkeepers: Keylor Navas (Levante), Patrick Pemberton (Alajuelense) Daniel Cambronero (Herediano);
Defenders: Johnny Acosta (Alajuelense), Giancarlo Gonzalez (Columbus Crew), Michael Umana (Saprissa), Oscar Duarte (Bruges), Waylon Francis (Columbus Crew), Heiner Mora (Saprissa), Junior Diaz (Mainz 05), Christian Gamboa (Rosenborg), Roy Miller (New York Red Bulls);
Midfielders: Celso Borges (AIK), Christian Bolanos (Copenhagen), Esteban Granados (Herediano), Michael Barrantes (Aalesund), Yeltsin Tejeda (Saprissa), Diego Calvo (Valerenga), Jose Miguel Cubero (Herediano);
Forwards: Bryan Ruiz (PSV Eindhoven, on loan from Fulham), Joel Campbell (Olympiakos, on loan from Arsenal), Randall Brenes (Cartagines), Marco Urena (FC Kuban Krasnodar).
It’s tough to predict who will qualify from this group because Italy, England and Uruguay are all equally strong contenders. Personally, I’m expecting England to wilt under Brazil's searing temperatures with Italy and Uruguay emerging victorious. It’s going to be an interesting group and every match will be closely watched by fans.