Rio de Janeiro, May 31 :
Of all the pools in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Group C is arguably the most open and has sent the bookies into a tizzy. Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan will all be fancying their chances of making the next round.
Playing in their own continental backyard and coming on the back of a solid qualifying game where they finished two points behind toppers Argentina, Colombia are the odds on favourites to progress beyond the preliminaries.
However, it will not be easy, especially with a question mark over the fitness of injured star striker Radamel Falcao.
Colombia, though, still boast of a very talented squad with the presence of solid defenders Mario Yepes and Luis Perea, as well as the creativity of attacking midfielder James Rodriguez and the goal scoring instincts of Teo Gutierrez, a lethal partner for Falcao up front.
Japan, the Asian champions, will also believe that they can make it through the group. They have gelled well under Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni.
Zaccheroni’s style of play has added much-needed steel to the Japanese defensive setup. They had a mixed qualifying stage where they registered emphatic victories over Oman (3-0) and Jordan (6-0) but also went down to the likes of Uzbekistan and North Korea.
However, the evolution of midfielder Keisuke Honda into an international stars has done wonders for the team.
He has quickly established his place as the team’s new leader, filling the void left by Hidetoshi Nakata and Shunsuke Nakamura.
Add to that the skills of Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki, who finished the continental finals as the team’s top-scorer with three goals, and Japan could go a long way in the tournament.
African powerhouse Ivory Coast are not one to be ignored.
With the likes of Yaya Toure (Manchester City), Gervinho (AS Roma), Didier Drogba (Galatasaray), Kolo Toure (Liverpool) and Wilfried Bony (Swansea City) amongst others in the team, it would be foolish to take them lightly.
Ivory Coast have the necessary firepower to even top the group and cause some big upsets in the knockout stages.
They have always gone into tournaments with a big reputation but have failed to live up to their billing.
Ivory Coast have never progressed past the group stage but in their third consecutive World Cup finals, they would want to correct the record.
Greece, the 2004 Euro champions, breezed through the opening qualification campaign. They ousted Romania in the play-offs to make it to the finals.
However, the lack of star names in the side means that it could be a difficult journey for the Greeks.
Captain and seasoned midfield general Giorgos Karagounis remains the dominant figure in the Greek line-up but forwards Dimitrios Salpingidis and Konstantinos Mitroglou will certainly have a part to play.
The Grecian defence stole the show in the qualifying, conceding just four times in 10 matches. However, against the likes of Falcao, Drogba and Honda, it could be a different story altogether.