With the last-16 of the 2014 World Cup on the horizon, Group C draws to a close on Tuesday evening with Colombia facing Japan and Ivory Coast taking on Greece.
This group has had it all, from Colombia’s enterprising attack and their vibrant dance celebrations, to a contender for the worst game of the tournament when Japan drew 0-0 against Greece.
Los Cafeteros have already secured their passage through to the knockout stages however the final qualification place is still up for grabs with Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan all in with a chance of progressing.
The Ivorians come into this game knowing that a win will guarantee them a place in the last-16 for the first time. Lose or draw and they would rely on Colombia avoiding defeat against Japan. For the Ethniki, winning is a prerequisite and even then, should the Samurai Blue beat the South Americans, their goal difference is likely to come back and haunt them.
In truth, all signs point towards a Les Elephants victory. Man to man, their starting XI boasts more marquee names and the Greeks have yet to register a goal in Brazil. However as the Japanese found out, the Europeans can be a tough nut to crack, even with 10-men. Fernando Santos’s men frustrated their Asian counterparts for over an hour despite the dismissal of their captain, Konstantinos Katsouranis and their plan will revolve around frustrating the Africans while looking to exploit a vulnerable defence through set-pieces and the counter-attack.
But their humbling 3-0 defeat to Colombia and gritty 0-0 draw against Japan exposed the Greek’s Achilles heel; they have a dearth of firepower and struggle to score goals. Kostas Manolas and Kostas Mirtoglou are both expected to be fit for the clash despite minor injury problems while Santos is expected to give veteran midfielder, Giorgos Karagounis, his 138th cap and his first start of the tournament.
Unlike the Greek tactician, Sabri Lamouchi has a myriad of attacking options at his disposal and he will be hoping the likes of Yaya Toure, Wilfred Bony, Gervinho and super-sub, Didier Drogba, can power them into the last-16. Having demonstrated character to come back and secure a 2-1 victory over the Japanese in their first game, the Ivorians stuttered against Colombia and two lapses of concentration cost them dearly in a 2-1 defeat.
The African’s received some poignant news after Ibrahim Toure – younger brother of Kolo and Yaya – died on Friday however both men have vowed to honour their sibling by securing progress through to the knockout stages. Lamouchi isn’t expected to dramatically alter his line-up, although Yaya Toure could be employed in a more defensive role to compensate for the introduction of Salomon Kalou.
Japan vs. Colombia
Having lost their opener to Ivory Coast and failed to make their numerical advantage pay against the Greeks, Japan find themselves in a do or die type scenario. Nothing but a win will suffice for Alberto Zaccheroni’s men and this may yet prove futile should results in the other fixture go against them.
As it stands, a Japanese victory would only seal their progression should the Africans narrowly lose to the Ethniki. If the aforementioned duo were to draw, then the Samurai Blue would need to beat Los Cafeteros by two goals to overturn the Ivorian’s goal difference.
While Jose Pekerman’s outfit have undoubtedly been the standout team in Group C, there is some cause for Japanese optimism. The Colombians have already booked their passage through to the last-16 and barring an Ivory Coast victory and a four goal swing, they have all but wrapped up top spot. Thus Pekerman is expected to ring the changes. In attack Jackson Martinez and Carlos Bacca may replace Teofilo Gutierrez and Victor Ibarbo while Mario Yepes, Juan Cuadrado and James Rodriguez may all be rested.
Zaccheroni’s men have no fresh injury concerns and Manchester United attacker, Shinji Kagawa, is expected to return to the starting XI to provide more creativity. If the form book is anything to go by then it is hard to see past a Colombia victory. However with the South Americans qualified and perhaps already turning their attention to their last-16 tie, the Japanese will feel they are more than capable of causing an upset.
However, as of yet, the Samurai Blue have failed to reach their potential in Brazil and they are under no illusions that drastic improvements must be made if they are to overturn Colombia. As playmaker, Keisuke Honda, told FIFA.com:
“Even though Colombia have already qualified, for us the game will be like a final and we’ll be playing for our lives.”
Follow Luca Hodges-Ramon on Twitter: @LH_Ramon25