Of the three groups so far, this is the most open. Unfortunately, injury is somewhat responsible for that.
Colombia: The Colombians are the class of this group, but their advantage is mitigated by the loss of Radamel Falcao, whose frantic push to be healthy for the World Cup fell just short. Falcao is one of the best players not going to Brazil, and the best not going because of injury. But the end result of his absence might be minimal; they have enough talent as is to advance from this group, while even with him I don’t think they would threaten the semifinals. Of the second-tier of South American teams in this tournament, those below Brazil and Argentina, Colombia boast the best balance of attack and defense, and a quarterfinal run is not out of the question.
Japan: Japan is a surprisingly fun team to watch, a reminder that footballing talent isn’t limited to Western Europe and the Americas. Shinji Kagawa, though he didn’t see much playing time with Manchester United, is an excellent creative player, and AC Milan’s Keisuke Honda is equally talented. They made the round of 16 in 2010, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see them advance from their group in 2014.
Ivory Coast: Finally, a good draw for the Ivorians. In 2006, they were saddled with Argentina and the Netherlands, while in 2010 they had to deal with Brazil and Portugal. Unfortunately, it comes as their golden generation, players such as Didier Drogba and the Toure brothers, are over 30. This is the last shot for that generation to do something on the international stage with their immense talent.
Greece: Ugh. The Greeks know only one way to play, and it isn’t an attractive one. 10 men behind the ball, defending their hearts out, and once in a while going forward with the long ball. When they shockingly won Euro 2004, it was with a series of 1-0 victories, with goals scored via crosses from the right wing. Little has changed but the success. Two goals against Nigeria weren’t enough to see them out of the group stage in 2010, and at Euro 2012 Germany handed them their exit in the quarterfinals.
Key Player: Yaya Toure, Ivory Coast:
In the absence of Falcao, Toure becomes the best player in this group. He has come into his own with Manchester City in recent years, cementing his place as one of the best midfielders in the world. He will be the engine for the Ivory Coast, and if they are to finally escape the group stage, it will largely be his doing.
What Will Happen: Colombia should be favored to win this group, and it may be desire more than anything else, but I (want to) see Greece finishing last. That leaves the battle for advancement to Japan and the Ivory Coast, and I see the African side getting it done.