Sans Glitz, Not Grit - The New Indian Express

Sans Glitz, Not Grit

Published: 27th May 2014 11:35 AM

Last Updated: 28th May 2014 04:54 PM

Even by the sport’s intrinsic penchant to surprise, none of the teams in Group C are likely to squeeze themselves to the bracket of winners. None of them would either feature in the neutral’s list of must-watch. But what they can is to enthrall and surprise, key ingredients that maketh the grandest sporting affair an unrivalled spectacle.

Almost every edition in the last two decades has savoured the unprecedented run of an outsider. Think of Bulgaria in 1994, Croatia in the subsequent edition, South Korea and Turkey in 2002, and Ukraine in 2006. There’s an inimitable romance to their tale. Among the four teams in this group, Colombia certainly have the requisite elements to embellish the dark-horse tradition.

Since the fading away of their golden generation, which mostly flattered to deceive, Colombia endured a 10-year stasis, before Jose Pekerman forged a side of redoubtable enterprise, which secured their World Cup qualification after 16 years of drought. Like their under-achieving predecessors of the 90s, they have a no-holds-barred approach to the game. Radamel Falcao’s abilities are well-storied, and it’s around him that Pekerman has constructed his team.

That said, they are not entirely reliant on him. Porto forward Jackson Martinez has been the top-scorer in the Portuguese league for back-to-back seasons. Then, there is Inter Milan winger Fredy Guarin, eagerly pursued by the heavyweights of Europe. So is his Fiorentina adversary Juan Cuadrado, who has earned his reputation as a steely box-to-box midfielder. Not to discount Roma midfielder and Manchester United target James Rodriguez. Carlos Bacca of Sevilla and Teofilo Gutierrez of River Plate, who scored as many times as Falcao in open play in the qualifiers, lend considerable options to Pekerman, who has been tactically flexible.

Unlike their underachieving predecessors, they have a resolute defence-line. Their defence is manned by the experienced Mario “Super” Yepes and ably allied by Luis Amaranto Perea. They will be complimented by Juan Camilo Zúñiga, who has earned the reputation as one of the finest left-backs in the Serie A. If he fails, they have West Ham United’s Pablo Armero. While they don’t have a flamboyant net-minder like Rene Higuita, they have the reliable David Ospina.

Their toughest fixture would be against Ivory Coast, who will be spearheaded by arguably the best player in the EPL last year, Yaya Toure. Should the versatile midfielder replicate half the form he displayed in the EPL, Ivory Coast can be easily vouched to reach the second round. Apart from Toure, they have a wealth of experience and expertise in Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Wilfried Bony, Lacina Traore and Gervinho. The defence, marshaled by the experienced but out-of-form Kolo Toure, remains their biggest concern, more so when they play pacy teams like Colombia and Japan, who will be the biggest blockade in their knockout pursuit.

The Asian giants’ stocks have plummeted, despite being the first team to qualify for the World Cup after the hosts. Nonetheless, the Blue Samurais can’t be underestimated. Certainly not with the likes of Shinji Kagawa, Yasuhito Endo, Keisuke Honda and Shinji Okazaki manipulating the channels. Defence, though, remains shaky, which the Kiwis fully exposed in a recent friendly (4-2).

Former European champs Greece’s woes are exactly the opposite. They have a fine group of defenders, but are deficient on attacking options. But they will be buoyed by the fact that they thrashed Romania 4-2 in the play-offs to seal their Brazil berth.

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