ATHENS, Greece (AP) Colombia is the favorite in Group C, there’s not much doubt about that. That leaves Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan to play for the group’s other spot in the round of 16 at this year’s World Cup in Brazil.
Here’s five things to know about Group C:
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FOCUS ON FALCAO
After the draw in December, Colombia was made an early favorite to advance from Group C. But that was before Colombia striker Radamel Falcao damaged ligaments in his left knee in a French Cup game against an amateur team.
Doctors give the Monaco forward a 50-50 chance of recovering from the January injury in time to make the World Cup squad.
”It’s too early to say what will happen. I’d rather wait before making a decision,” the 28-year-old Falcao said in a recent radio interview. ”It’s tough to be away from the matches. I miss everything: the training, the travel, the match build up … But I’m doing my exercises and I’m happy with the results.”
The ”Coffee Growers” from Colombia rolled through qualifying, even routing Uruguay 4-0 on their way to earning 30 points from 16 matches.
Falcao sealed qualification with two late goals against Chile, coming from behind for a 3-3 home draw.
Under Argentine coach Jose Pekerman, Colombia has blossomed, rising from 35th place in the world rankings to the top five and their first World Cup in 16 years.
Pekerman’s opening match is against Greece, Europe’s defensive stalwarts who conceded only four goals in 10 qualifiers.
SO LONG SANTOS
Greece coach Fernando Santos will step down after the World Cup, but says he’s glad to help lift the country’s spirits after it endured four years of severe financial crisis.
”The Greeks have been so warm to me, so welcoming. It feels great to give them some joy and hope that things will get better,” the Portuguese coach said.
Santos has stuck with striker Kostas Mitroglou despite his troubled move to Premier League club Fulham and is keeping a close watch on the recovery of defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos, who has missed matches at Schalke for 13 months due to a knee injury.
Greece captain Giorgos Karagounis remains motivator-in-chief at 37, playing in eight qualifiers and both playoffs to reach a record 132 appearances for the national team.
Japan will be looking for Keisuke Honda to provide a spark in Brazil, but the bleach-haired forward has had an unsettling time at AC Milan since joining this year from CSKA Moscow.
Honda scored an injury-time penalty against Australia to make Japan the first team to qualify for this year’s tournament, leading coach Alberto Zaccheroni to promise that his team was ready to ”surprise the world.”
Didier Drogba remains at the center of Ivory Coast’s hopes, despite turning 36 last month.
The Ivorians qualified comfortably under French coach Sabri Lamouchi, and were further relieved to avoid a tough draw this time around.
They faced Argentina and the Netherlands in 2006, and Brazil and Portugal at the last World Cup – finishing third both times. If Ivory Coast makes it through this year, there will be not let up in the round of 16 with the team likely to face a former World Cup winner in either Italy, England or Uruguay.
”That’s what I want, for the Elephants to take on tough opponents,” Lamouchi said. ”We want to raise our standards, our concentration, our determination … We are raising our game.”
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