Three more days to go until the World Cup begins! Today gives us a look at Japan’s chances in Brazil, and plenty of highlights, including the goal that silenced a stadium filled with 200,000 fans. Part 2 in a 4-part series.
By Matthew Hernon
Despite being blessed with an abundance of attacking talent, the absence of star player Radamel Falcao is a major blow. Jackson Martinez is a good replacement, but not quite in the same class as the Monaco forward, who scored a third of their goals during an impressive qualification campaign. Even without him, they remain slight favorites to win the group.
Memorable WC Moment—Receiving a delightful pass from Carlos Valderrama, Freddy Rincón puts the ball between the keeper’s legs to give Colombia a dramatic injury-time equalizer against West Germany, sending them through to the Second Round of the 1990 World Cup.
Trivia—As mad off the pitch as he was on it, Colombia’s goalkeeper in that tournament Rene Higuita, who was once arrested for his involvement in a kidnapping, decided to undergo plastic surgery in 2005 after being voted Colombia’s ‘Ugliest Icon’. Happy with the result, he described himself as “perfect.”
Key Player—James Rodriguez (Monaco)
One to Watch—Juan Quintero (Porto)
Fernando Santos’ men are likely to stick to with the same defensive approach that helped them win the Euros in 2004. An experienced squad, they won’t be the most entertaining team to watch in Brazil, but they could prove to be one of the most difficult sides to score against. They conceded just four goals in qualification, a record bettered only by current champions Spain in Europe.
Memorable WC Moment—Vasilis Torosidis pokes home the winner against Nigeria in a pulsating clash during the 2010 tournament. It has been Greece’s only World Cup victory to date.
Trivia—Defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos usually just has Sokratis on his back as his surname is too long to fit on the shirt.
Key Player—Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Borussia Dortmund)
One to Watch—Giannis Fetfatzidis (Genoa)
The last chance at a World Cup for many of their so-called “Golden Generation,” Ivory Coast are aiming to reach the knockout stages for the first time in their history. Unlucky to have been drawn in the ‘Group of Death’ in the last two tournaments, there can be no excuses this time round. A fantastic opportunity for Ivorian legend Didier Drogba to finish his international career on a high.
Memorable WC Moment—Actually happened in a game they weren’t involved in: Cameroon’s Pierre Wome hits the post with a 95th minute penalty against Egypt, giving Ivory Coast the opportunity to play in their first ever World Cup in 2006. Two days of wild celebrations followed.
Trivia—Moments after that game, Didier Drogba picked up a microphone in the dressing room and live on TV he pleaded with the country’s warring factions to lay down their arms. One week later that’s exactly what they did.
Key Player—Yaya Toure (Man City)
One to Watch—Serge Aurier (Toulouse FC)
The Blue Samurai showed their potential last autumn with an impressive 2-2 draw away at Holland and a 3-2 victory over the highly fancied Belgians; however, both games underlined their fragility at the back. The recent 4-3 win over Zambia suggests Alberto Zaccheroni has done little to address the problem. It may not be great for the fans’ blood pressure, but it does make for a great spectacle.
Memorable WC Moment—In 2002, Junichi Inamoto sends the vast majority of the 70,000+ fans at the Nissan Stadium delirious, slotting home the only goal of the game against Russia as the Blue Samurai win a match at the World Cup for the first time.
Trivia—He wasn’t part of that squad, but with 144 games for his country, midfielder Yasuhito Endo will be the most capped outfield player in Brazil. He is still behind goalkeeper Iker Casillas though, who has 154.
Key Player—Keisuke Honda (AC Milan)
One to Watch—Yoichiro Kakitani (Cerezo Osaka)
Surprising semi-finalists four years ago, coach Óscar Tabárez believes they are capable of going as far again despite only scraping into the qualifying stages via a play-off. Much will depend on the form and fitness of their attacking trio: Diego Forlán, Edison Cavani and in particular Luis Suarez. The Liverpool striker, who recently injured his knee, is hoping to be ready for the opener with Costa Rica.
Memorable WC Moment—Alcides Ghiggia’s bobbled shot 11 minutes from time gives Uruguay a stunning 2-1 victory over Brazil in front of an estimated 200,000+ fans at the Maracana in 1950, winning them their second World Cup.
Trivia—In 1950, Uruguay captain Obdulio Varela got his teammates to urinate over the O Mundo newspaper after it showed a picture of the Brazilian side under the headline “These are the World Champions” on the morning of the game.
Key Player—Luis Suárez (Liverpool)
One to Watch—Abel Hernández (Palermo)
Expectations are lower than they have been for some time, yet paradoxically, there is a real air of optimism surrounding the Three Lions squad. Coach Roy Hodgson has opted for a number of inexperienced, yet vibrant young players, which makes for a refreshing change after seeing the same old faces in the last few tournaments. Their first game against Italy is likely to be a cagey-affair.
Memorable WC Moment—“Some people are on the pitch, they think it’s all over…it is now” Geoff Hurst riffles home his hat-trick goal (at 1:45) as the inventors of the game beat West Germany 4-2 to win their first and so far only World Cup in 1966.
Trivia—The trophy had actually been stolen a few months earlier. It was found by a mongrel named Pickles under a bush in South-east London. The story knocked the General Election off the front pages.
Key Player—Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
One to Watch—Ross Barkley (Everton)
Aiming to equal Brazil’s record of five titles, the Azzurri are always a threat even if they don’t look as good on paper as the tournament’s leading contenders. Tight at the back with a well balanced midfield, they have a chance if the inconsistent Mario Balotelli is on his game. Don’t be fooled by their poor form going into the tournament, they don’t really take non-competitive games too seriously.
Memorable WC Moment—Perhaps the most iconic celebration in footballing history, Marco Tardelli fists clenched, screaming uncontrollably, shows what it really feels like to score a goal in the World Cup final. In 1982, Italy beat West Germany 3-1 in the game to claim their third title.
Trivia—Top scorer in that tournament, Paolo Rossi hadn’t played a single minute in the two years leading up to the World Cup as he had been banned for his role in the betting scandal known as Totonero. He has always denied the allegations.
Key Player—Andrea Pirlo (Juventus)
One to Watch—Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain)
Huge underdogs in the group, Costa Rica’s chances of reaching the second round have been further hampered by the loss of key players Brian Oviedo and Alvario Soborio due to injury. They will be hopeful of causing an upset in one of the games against their illustrious rivals, but that is the best they can expect. A place in the knockout stages is likely to prove beyond them.
Memorable WC Moment—Hernán Medford slots the ball home with two minutes remaining to give Costa Rica a shock victory over Sweden in 1990, sending them through to the second round in their first ever tournament.
Trivia—Coach of that side, Bora Milutinović is the only manager to have taken four different teams beyond the first round of the World Cup, earning him the nickname “Miracle Worker.” Unfortunately he couldn’t work miracles with his fifth side China: they lost all three games in 2002.
Key Player—Keylor Navas (Levante)
One to Watch—Joel Campbell (Olympiacos, on loan from Arsenal)
Check out our preview of Groups A & B here.