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Dustin George-Miller
Dustin George-Miller
Dustin George-Miller is a musician, father, husband and Goshen College staffer. A life-long soccer fan, he grew up playing footy in the Elkhart YMCA youth leagues, but didn't let a lack of things like "talent" or "ability" impact his love for the beautiful game.

In his spare time he writes about the successes and failures (mostly failures) of his beloved Tottenham Hotspur Football Club at Cartilage Free Captain [http://cartilagefreecaptain.sbnation.com], part of the SB Nation family of sports blogs.



World Cup 2014 team previews: Groups C and D

We continue our look at the 32 teams that will be participating in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which kicks off June 12 in Brazil. In today’s post, we examine Groups C and D.


Posted on June 6, 2014 at 8:20 a.m.

Dustin George-Miller is a life-long soccer fan, a sports blogger and a Goshen College staffer. His community blog on The Elkhart Truth, The Corner Flag: World Cup 2014, will cover the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

In the first stage, World Cup teams are divided into eight groups of four teams. Each team plays the other teams in its group once, accumulating three points for a win and one point for a draw. Once the round-robin is complete, the top two teams from each group advance to a knock-out tournament. We’ll begin our World Cup preview by taking a look at each group and briefly examining the teams. 

Group C
Colombia • Greece • Ivory Coast • Japan

Group C promises to be equal parts entertaining and frustrating. It’ll be entertaining due to attacking teams like Colombia and Ivory Coast, as well as a potential spoiler team in Japan; it’ll be frustrating due to the presence of Greece and its ultra-defensive style, which will likely stifle goals and lead to low-scoring matches. None of these teams are especially poor, but it’s unlikely that any of them will go very far past the group stages. With the injury to Radamel Falcao (see below), we could probably end up calling this the Group of Meh.

 

Colombia (FIFA World Ranking - 5)
World Cup titles - 0
Previously qualified: 1998
 

Although Colombia hasn’t been to the World Cup since 1998, it was considered a dark horse team to win the World Cup this summer. That was before Radamel Falcao, the team’s best player and one of the best strikers in the world, tore his ACL. Falcao was just ruled out of the tournament, which is a huge blow to this Colombian side. With a healthy Falcao, Colombia would have been a virtual shoo-in to win this group. Without him, the picture is a little more murky. Without its best player, it’s possible a team or two could steal points from Colombia in the group stages, which could have a decisive impact on the group as a whole.

Players to watch: With Falcao out, look for James Rodriguez and Jackson Martinez (nickname: “Cha Cha Cha”), both future stars, to fill the Falcao-sized hole in Colombia’s offense. Colombia’s still a very good side, but this hurts the team a great deal.

 

Greece (FIFA World Ranking - 10)
World Cup titles - 0
Previously qualified: 2010 (group stage)
 

Greece exploded onto the world soccer scene when it came out of nowhere to shock Europe by winning Euro 2004. The team achieved this through a combination of solid teamwork and extremely negative, robust, defensive soccer that favored defensive solidity over any sort of attack.  It’s a highly criticized style considered the antithesis of the free-flying style of teams like Brazil and Spain. Expect Greece to continue in this pragmatic manner — the team will pack men behind the ball, soak up pressure and might — just might — try to occasionally hit back on a counter-attack. The difference this time around is that Greece has a capable striker in Konstantinos Mitroglu, which means teams must now be cautious of leaving too much space behind them. Is Greece’s style effective? Undoubtably. It’s also mind-numbingly dull to watch and doesn’t endear Greek football to anyone except, well, maybe Greeks. 

Player to watch:  Defender Sokratis Papastathopolous (Borussia Dortmund) has a lot of letters in his name and can play either center back or right back. He is the primary reason the Greek defense can be so frustratingly impenetrable. Even with Mitroglu, Greece’s attack is not that great, so it’ll go as far as its back line can take it. Personally, I hope it takes the team to an airplane heading back to Athens.

 

Ivory Coast (FIFA World Ranking - 21)
World Cup titles - 0
Previously qualified: 2010 (group stage)
 

The past two World Cups, Cote d’Ivoire has had the misfortune of being drawn into the infamous “Group of Death,” both times with very good teams that were dark horses to make deep runs. Both times the team failed to progress out of the group stage. This year’s team isn’t quite as good as in past cups, but the good news is that its group this time isn’t quite as monstrous (though still tricky). The Elephants have a nice mix of experienced players who have been to previous World Cups and younger players coming up through the ranks. The team is arguably the best side to come out of Africa in this tournament and will be a formidable opponent.

World Cup Group Previews

Player to watch: Ivory Coast’s best player is arguably the intimidating Yaya Toure, a physically imposing midfielder who is every bit as dominating for his club team (Manchester City) as he is for The Elephants. Toure has a beautiful passing ability and is a massive physical presence in the midfield, which allows him to excel in both offense and defense. He also has an awesome name that is fun to say. Which is important -- you haven’t lived until you’ve screamed “YAYA!!” at a television screen during a match.

 

Japan (FIFA World Ranking - 47)
World Cup titles - 0
Previously qualified: 2010 (round of 16)
 

Japan has quietly snuck up to the rest of the world in international football, and it just might continue to do so this summer. The Blue Samurai play attractive, technical football, and while you may not recognize a lot of the names on the squad, they have the ability to make a stealth run out of the group – possibly farther. Japan won’t win the whole thing, and honestly, not many have very high expectations for it in this group… and that’s exactly what the team wants you to think. 

Players to watch: Japan’s attack will be led by forwards Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United) and Keisuke Honda (AC Milan). Kagawa, though underutilized at United, is a dynamic wide forward, and Honda was a key player in Japan’s run to the round of 16 in 2010.

 

FEARLESS PREDICTIONS: The injury to Falcao turns this into a more competitive group, which makes it more difficult to predict. That said, even without Falcao it’s hard to discount the quality of the Colombians, at least in this opening stage. I’m betting on the technical savvy of Japan to just squeak past Greece’s anti-football. Is it an upset? In this group, I kind of don’t think so. Dustin’s predictions: Colombia and Japan

 


 

Group D
Uruguay • Italy • England • Costa Rica

Another candidate for “Group of Death” status along with Groups B and G, Group D features three former World Cup champions, including two European powers and a South American team playing on its home continent that made the semi-finals in 2010. And then there’s Costa Rica. If you’re a fan of the Ticos...welp, enjoy Brazil while you can.

 

Uruguay (FIFA World Ranking - 6)
World Cup titles - 2 (1930, 1950)
Previously qualified: 2010 (quarterfinals)
 

Considering how loaded Uruguay is with talent and its surprise (and controversial) semifinal showing in 2010, it’s somewhat incredible how difficult a time the team had just making it to the World Cup this year. Its defense, which is not very good, hurt it, and it limped to a fifth place finish in South American qualifying, requiring it to beat Jordan in a qualification playoff. The Charrúas was also dealt a recent blow with the news that its star striker, English Premier League Player of the Year Luis Suarez, is undergoing surgery after an injury in training. Doctors are confident he’ll be back in time for the World Cup, but losing a player of his caliber hurts a lot. Uruguay’s modus operandus is to use its offensive weaponry to try and outshoot its opponents. It’s a risky strategy, but it worked in 2010.

Players to watch: You might remember Suarez from a couple of high profile incidents over the past number of years: the infamous intentional handball against Ghana in the 2010 quarterfinals, his bite of Branislav Ivanovich last season that cost him an eight game suspension, etc. He’s like a cross between Diego Maradona and Dennis Rodman, with an overbite. Despite all the controversy, Suarez had a monster season for Liverpool, scoring 31 league goals. If he plays, he’ll continue to be one of the most divisive (and fascinating) players in the World Cup. If he’s not ready to go, it’s a good thing Uruguay still has Edinson Cavani, another fantastic striker, to “fall back” on. It’ll need the offensive output to counteract aging and vulnerable defense. 

 

Italy (FIFA World Ranking - 9)
World Cup titles - 4 (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006)
Previously qualified: 2010 (group stage)

Try to imagine a World Cup without Italy. Go on, just try. You can’t, because Italy hasn’t failed to qualify for a World Cup since 1958. The four-time world champions are perennial contenders in international football. You get the sense that this Italian squad isn’t quite up to its usual level, but it is well-coached, technically solid, tactically flexible and very dangerous. It has a good mixture of experienced players and young blood. Italian football has historically been defensive in nature (the oft-maligned “Catenaccio”), but under Cesare Prandelli, this year’s squad is much more inclined to push the ball up the field and play attacking football. It’s weird.

Players to watch: The heart and soul of this Italian club is undoubtably midfielder Andrea Pirlo, one of the saviors of Italy’s World Cup winning side in 2006. Now 34, this is unquestioningly Pirlo’s swan song for the Azzuri, and if you don’t watch Pirlo for his play, watch him at least for his glorious beard, which I’m convinced will at some point in the tournament achieve sentience and go on to its own career. Also keep an eye on young, hot-headed striker Mario Balotelli, who should provide a scoring punch… and perhaps a few other kinds of punches as well.

 

England (FIFA World Ranking - 11)
World Cup titles - 1 (1966)
Previously qualified: 2010 (Round of 16)
 

England is the birthplace of soccer and today is home to one of the most exciting, most popular and best leagues in the world — the Barclays Premier League. Despite this and the prevalent English belief that World Cups are their birthright, England has been off the boil internationally for many years now. A decent American sports analogy might be UCLA college basketball — once an unquestioned power and developed by an icon (John Wooden), it has stagnated but still believes it should hang with the blue-bloods every season. England is transitioning, with more young faces on the team, but it’ll have to play ahead of its years and experience if it wants to progress farther than the group stages. 

Players to watch:  While striker Wayne Rooney is perhaps the most famous face on the England team, instead pay close attention to his young striker partner Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), a player poised on the brink of stardom who could very well end up being England’s World Cup scoring leader. Midfielder Jack Wilshere (Arsenal) is a young central midfielder who is quickly becoming one of the hottest players in England.

 

Costa Rica (FIFA World Ranking - 34)
World Cup titles - 0
Last qualified: 2006 (group stage)
 

If you’re Costa Rica, you’re just happy to be here. It’s a Central American regional power, but it hasn’t made much of its few opportunities in the World Cup since its surprise progression to the Round of 16 in 1990.  Despite easing its way through World Cup qualification in the CONCACAF region and finishing second behind the United States, it’s unfortunately the weakest team in this group. Not much is expected of it. The Ticos has an excellent defense, but its offensive issues are compounded now that veteran forward Álvaro Saborío, who plays for MLS side Real Salt Lake, is out after breaking his foot in training. 

Players to watch:  With Saborío out, Costa Rica will rely heavily on Bryan Ruiz, who spent the year on loan in Holland. Joel Campbell is a young striker owned by Arsenal who may be worth keeping an eye on… if he makes it onto the field.

 

FEARLESS PREDICTIONS: Assuming Costa Rica doesn’t pick up any points, I anticipate a dog fight between the other three teams in the league. When the dust settles, though, I expect Italy to have enough quality to win the group, with England barely pipping Uruguay for second. Dustin’s predictions: Italy and England.

Would you like to become one of The Elkhart Truth’s community bloggers? Get in touch with our community manager, Ann Elise Taylor, at ataylor@elkharttruth.com with a little information about yourself and what you’d like to blog about.




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