Group C appears to be full of opportunities for the teams that can grab points with Colombia and Ivory Coast most favoured to get through to the next round. The South Americans return to the World Cup after a 16-year hiatus with a game against Greece, the perpetual underdogs of the group looking to win their second-ever game in the World Cup.
Colombia coach Jose Pekerman has selection problems ahead of his side’s World Cup debut against Greece in Belo Horizonte on Saturday. It begins its campaign without a number of key players after midfielder Edwin Valencia and striker Radamel Falcao were ruled out of the competition through injury. Falcao’s absence is a big blow and means Pekerman is likely to opt for Sevilla striker Carlos Bacca instead, with River Plate’s Teo Gutierrez playing off him in a basic 4-4-2 formation, but the Argentine coach is yet to decide on a replacement for deep-lying midfielder Valencia.
Captain Mario Yepes will start at the back, despite his advanced age of 38, although it is unclear which of the other defenders will partner the experienced Atalanta man against Greece. Further forward, Jackson Martinez appears to have fallen out of favour with coach Pekerman amid rumours of a bust-up between player and coach, and the Porto man looks set to start on the bench against Greece. Whichever team turns out on Saturday, Colombia is likely to take the initiative against a Greece team built on a solid back four.
Fernando Santos’ side conceded just four goals in 10 games in qualifying, fewer than any other team in Europe – and all of those were away from home. Much like in its 2004 European Championship win, Greece’s recent results have come off the back of a disciplined defense and a strong collective effort, boosted by counterattacking football and a successful strike rate from set pieces. Greece beat Bolivia 2-1 in its last friendly following a four-game goalless streak and is expected to start with a 4-3-3 formation on Saturday, although that will revert to more of a 4-5-1 system if they choose to be defensive.
Santos lost Schalke defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos well before the tournament, but has no major injury worries ahead of the game against Colombia. Sokratis Papastathopoulos has recovered from a biceps problem and should start. Forward Kostas Mitroglou finished 2013 on an absolute tear, seemingly scoring at will for Greece and his club at the time, Olympiacos. But following a January transfer to Fulham, who were subsequently relegated from the English Premier League, Mitroglou disappeared, making just three appearances in England. He hasn’t scored a goal so far in 2014 and would be hoping to get off the mark when his country needs him the most.
Greece have lost five of their six World Cup games, winning the other one against Nigeria (2-1) on 17 June 2010.
With 83.3% of defeats at the World Cup, Greece have the second worst ratio in the history of the tournament among teams having played at least six games behind El Salvador (100%).
Since 1966, Colombia have averaged the highest possession (58%) and the most ball touches per game (794).
Greece have failed to score in five of their six games at the World Cup, scoring only against Nigeria (2-1) in 2010 with goals by Dimitris Salpingidis and Vasilis Torosidis.
Portuguese coach Fernando Santos has only lost three of his 26 competitive games as Greece supremo (W17 D6).
Colombia had more shots on target than any other team in South American World Cup qualification (99).
Greece kept more clean sheets than any other European team in World Cup qualifying (8).
Colombia's 2-0 friendly victory over Greece ahead of the 1994 World Cup is the only previous meeting between the two nations.