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Radamel Falcao, 28, is the star of the current Colombian side and he managed to score nine times in the qualifying and also has a remarkable number of goals over his career for both club and country. He is very hungry and has good eye for finding the back of the net.
“El Tigre” made an astonishing switch to Monaco last summer for a whopping £51m fee, but suffered a major knee injury when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in January, 2014 and is a major worry for manager José Pékerman and the people of Colombia ahead of the World Cup. Player to watch
James Rodriguez, 22, is the rising star and always makes waves in Colombia’s attack. He has effortlessly made his mark since making his debut in 2011. The skillfully talented attacking midfielder joined teammate Falcao at Monaco for £37.5m last summer but his now former coach Claudio Ranieri advised him to put in more effort defensively. Head Coach
Argentine coach José Pékerman replaced Leonel Alvarez after Colombia suffered a shaky start to qualifying campaign for Brazil. He helped his native country reach the quarterfinal of the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Former national team star Carlos Valderrama believes Pékerman, the Cafeteros’ first foreign coach for over 30 years, has transformed and restored the true identity of Colombian football- a rich blend of adventure, fun and source of national pride. Road to Brazil
Colombia had a pretty easy run to the Copa Mundial , finishing in second place behind Argentina. They racked up 30 points from the 16 qualifying games, which marked their best return to the global soccer fiesta . Their best outings included a 4-0 home victory over Uruguay and 3-1 win in Chile, plus a tough goalless drawn game against Argentina. World Cup Achievements
In four previous appearance,s they have managed to reach the last 16 only once, losing to the African team with the most World Cup qualifications, Cameroon in 1990.
Sorrowful memories still live on from the USA ’94 campaign; defender Andrés Escobar was shot and killed in his hometown of Medellín after committing an own goal at the tournament. He is mourned and fondly remembered by Colombian fans, especially those of Atlético Nacional. Escobar is known for his famous line “Life doesn’t end here”.
FIFA Ranking: 5 IVORY COAST
Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire Prospects
This is definitely the last time for the Ivorians’ golden generation to shine at the global soccer showpiece event, and this tournament is going to be Didier Drogba’s last appearance in his international career. The blessed talents in the current squad have not lived up to expectations as they have failed to lift at least one Africa Cup of Nations trophy, which is baffling.
Most Valuable Player
Yaya Toure CIV
Manchester City midfield dynamo Yaya Toure banged in four times in six games during qualifying, with only Lille forward Salomon Kalou scoring more goals. Head Coach
Sabri Lamouchi’s appointment in May 2012 was highly debatable. A former French player whose international career spanned from 1996 to 2001, he had no previous coaching experience on his resume. He boldly left out Drogba out of the squad after a disappointing 2013 Africa Cup of Nations campaign, but recalled the experienced forward last August. Road to Brazil
Côte d’Ivoire together with Nigeria were the only African sides to end the qualifying series unbeaten. The Elephants comfortably finished atop their preliminary group ahead of Morocco before emerging triumphant in a play-off tie against Senegal 4-2 on aggregate. In the second leg fixture, there were some panicky moments when the Elephants trailed 1-0 in Casablanca, but Kalou quickly calmed the nerves of the Ivorians when he scored an equalizer in the dying minutes of the game to book their place in Brazil. World Cup Achievements
Côte d’Ivoire were unlucky to be pitted in the undesirable ‘Group of Death’ in their two previous tournaments. They managed to finished in third place in both campaigns, falling behind Argentina and the Netherlands in 2006 and Brazil and Portugal in 2010.
FIFA Ranking: 21 GREECE
Greece National Team Prospects
Greece were very disciplined defensively as they conceded only four times in their qualifying group, with only European and World champion Spain having a better record. They are not the most exciting team to watch, but they make the most out of their available player pool. The Greek squad is rated as Europe’s weakest side in Brazil by the bookmakers but they have proved time and again that they have what it takes to upset top-rated teams as witnessed in their run to the Euro 2004 title in Portugal and beating Russia in the quarterfinals at the Euro 2012 competition.
Most Valuable Player
Target man Kostas Mitroglou has been in incredible form for club and country. He scored three goals in two play-off matches against Romania, a goal apiece against Lithuania and Liechtenstein, and a hat-trick for Olympiacos at Anderlecht – which made him the first Greek player to register a UEFA Champions League treble. Head Coach
Former Portuguese player and now coach Fernando Santos took over in July 2010 from predecessor Otto Rehhagel, who left an indelible mark on the Greek national team as he led them to the Euro 2004 title. Emulating Rehhagel’s feat is certainly a daunting task to achieve and Santos claims it is “an identity that is not easy to change. We’ve tried to play a different way [but] then we slipped back into our comfort zone, our defensive strength.” Road to Brazil
Greece finished in second place to Bosnia in Group G but were seeded for the play-off phase where they managed to beat Romania 4-2 thanks largely to Mitroglou’s attacking piece of skill and clinical finishing. World Cup Achievements
In their two previous appearances in 1994 and 2010 respectively, the Greeks could not make it out of the group stage.
Nevertheless, they managed to claim their first victory in South Africa, defeating Nigeria, but got knocked out after a loss to Argentina in what was Rehhagel’s final game as the manager of the side.
FIFA Ranking: 10 JAPAN
Japan National Team Prospects
The current Japanese side carry a lot of promise and have what it takes to upset big teams with their technical abilities. However, they have the tendency of falling short in the defensive department of their game. The qualifying series was a really smooth phase for the Samurai Blue but they were quickly eliminated from the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil last summer with three disappointing defeats. Further losses to Serbia and Belarus led to calls for coach Alberto Zaccheroni’s contract to be terminated. A tie with the Netherlands and a victory over Belgium have restored the belief that Japan could take the world by surprise.
Most Valuable Player
Keisuke Honda, 27, is Japan’s most valuable player, with Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki the rising stars in the team. Attacking midfielder Honda, who signed for AC Milan from CSKA Moscow in January, has what it takes to lead his teammates all the way should he be in his best form. Head Coach
Alberto Zaccheroni is the sixth expatriate technical head of Japan. The Italian has been at the helm of affairs since August 2010. He is well known for 3-4-3 tactical style of play and has introduced the Japanese national team to the European approach to the game to make them a force to reckon with. He guided AC Milan to the Italian Serie A title back in 1999. Road to Brazil
Japan were the first country to reach the Brazil 2014 finals in as early as June, 2013. They garnered the most points (17) and goals registered (16 goals) in Asia’s final qualifying group phase. World Cup Achievements
Japan made their maiden appearance in France 1998 and this marks their fifth consecutive World Cup finals. They have managed to reached the last 16 on two occasions, first doing so on home soil in 2002 when they lost to eventual bronze medalists Turkey then again in South Africa 2010 when they lost to Paraguay on penalties after a 0-0 draw.
Fifa ranking: 47
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