FIFA World Cup: Rounding up Group C - Japan, Colombia, Ivory Coast, Greece

Written by Express news service | New Delhi | Updated: Jun 7 2014, 09:56am hrs
From the rodents of Pokemon to the Elephants, Group C will have no shortage of animal mascots. Columbia may miss their El Tigre Falcao, but the coach has other plans to retain their sharpness while Greeces Pirate Ship look to scupper the best laid plans.

Japan: An animated cheer

Miss watching the famous cartoon series Pokemon The wait is going to get over. No, no there wont be any re-runs on any of the kidschannels and the Japanese are not even thinking to make a sequel either.

Switch channels on your television at any time of the day, and youre sure to bump into an animated character with distinctly Oriental features indulging in screechy exchanges in English or a regional language, all dubbed of course. Now, get ready to see a lot more of them.

For, over the next month and a half, they will be invading your World Cup viewing experience, at least whenever the Japanese football team, or the Blue Samurais, take the field. While its not unique for a World Cup-bound team to choose a cartoon character as their mascot, Japan will have the super-powered Pikachu, the yellow-coloured rodent star of Pokemon fame, cheering them on. In true Pokemon tradition, Pikachu will be accompained by 10 other comrades, one for each member of the playing XI of course, in their pursuit to bring glory for the Samurais. The rest of the army will be made up of Bulbasaur, Charmander, Squirtle, Meowth, Chespin, Fennekin, Froakie, Pancham, Helioptile and Litleo. The initiative to have an anime legend as the mascot was designed by team sponsor Adidas in collaboration with renowned Japanese games manufacturing company Nintendo.

The Pokemons, pocket monsters for the uninitiated, are believed to possess unique powers and fight gallantly for their leader, Pikachu. The passionate Japanese followers can only hope that the Samurais take a cue from their good-luck charms and rally around the experienced of Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda.

In the Pokemon world, Pikachus can store electricity in their bodies and use them to strike, just like the electrifying duo of Yasuhito Endo and Shinji Okazaki.

Itll also be interesting to see whether the Samurais are inspired enough by Pikachu to use their mascots signature offense move, the Volt Tackle, which can paralyze opponents. Though the referees might have something to say about that.

Pikachu itself will face competition from Fuleco, a yellow and blue armadillo, who is the official mascot of the tournament. And the length of the electric mouses South American invasion will depend on how far in the tournament it inspires the Samurais to go.

Colombia: The football of abstinence

A moral war of sorts has broken out in Colombia. A few months ago, their much-revered coach Jose Pekerman insisted that the team should stay away from any impedements during the World Cup. In other words, he ordered his players to stay away from their wives and girlfriends and not have sex during the tournament. Just like his Mexican counterpart.

It was all ok until Carlos Valderama spoke out. The legendary midfielder has spoken in favour of the act, saying it helps relaxing the players. If wed had sex during the World Cup, it wouldve been better. We would have relaxed after gamesespecially after defeats. Its total relaxation. Its not an impediment. It should be quiet, cool, without inventing crazy poses, Valderama said.

A couple of weeks ahead of the World Cup, the big debate is whether players should have sex in Brazil taking some focus off Radamel Falcaos inability to get fit in time for the Cup.

Despite the deabte the veteran Argentine tactician has acquired such legendary status in Colombia that the countrys president offered him nationality and proposed to name a road after him.

Its hardly surprising that Pekerman has received such adulation. Colombia might not have had to travel far to reach Brazil but they have had to overcome several adversities to qualify. And one wonders if they would have managed sans Pekerman. He was appointed as a coach when it looked near certain that Colombia would miss the World Cup yet again. Leonel Alvarez, his predecessor, was sacked after he could managed just four points from the first three matches in a tough group. Once Pekerman took charge, Colombia won eight of the next 13 matches to finish second in the nine-team group, only two points behind Argentina.

They have qualified for the first time since 1998 and replaced Valderrama, Higuita, Escobar and Maturana with new icons like Falcao, James, Teofilo, and Pekerman. Considered to be the dark horses, it shouldnt be surprising to see them go deep into the tournament.

Ivory Coast: Schooled to have fun

With its reputation of turning out a number of players for the first XI of Barcelona FC and even the Spanish national team, there is good reason to consider La Masia one of the premier football schools of the world. The school is both revered and envied by most in the footballing world. However there is one academy in the world that rivals Barcelona in producing a truly staggering number of top-class players, and that is Sol Beni.

Sol Beni is the footballing academy of Asec Mimosas FC, a club based in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. I think that the success of the Elephants, it all comes down to the training policy put in place in the early 1990s by Asec. At the time it wasnt the normal thing to do. Asec created the first real football school, Ivorian team captain Didier Drogba once said in an interview. Sven Goran Ericson described it as a quarry of the most successful. Drogba, who migrated to France when he was five, himself never went to Sol Beni. But many others have. Nine out of Ivory Coasts 28-man preliminary squad for the 2014 World Cup nearly a third of the total strength learned their skills at Sol Beni. These include Yaya and Kolo Toure, Salomon Kalou and Gervinho. Two thirds of Ivory Coasts 2006 World cup finals squad had come through the doors of Asecs Sol Beni academy, founded in 1994. At the 2010 World Cup, 11 of the 21 man squad had passed out of Sol Beni.

Sol Beni has even had an impact in how the national team plays. The goal is to attack constantly. Players dribble not just to score but simply because they enjoy it. Indeed The motto of the academy, written above the training pitch is Les enfants samusent which translates as the children have fun.

Greece: Pirate ship aim for big splash

The summer of 2004 saw a team with wizened veterans and fresh-faced youngsters downing European football superpowers with aplomb, claim the continental championship. Greece shocked the footballing world with its surge to the title. Ten years on, the Pirate Ship, a nickname that the side earned during that incredible summer in Portugal, will be looking to create another such splash, albeit in the biggest footballing event in the world.

The Greece of today will have only two representatives from the class of 2004, taking out the promise of a better future on to the field in Brazil.

Fittingly, Giorgios Karagounis, the 37-year-old skipper of the side and Greeces most capped player will be leading the Greek charge. With 132 caps, he is the most experienced of the lot, leading a well-rounded young side which has often lost out due to its lack of big-game experience.

Karagounis, famously remembered for the low, fizzing drive from 25-yards against Portugal in the first round of Euro 2004, has been a part of some of Greek footballs finest moments. It was the midfielders goal that took his side past Russia and into the quarter-finals in Euro 2012. Karagounis also played a sterling role in driving Greeces midfield in 2010.

Karagounis has reiterated that in Brazil, his teams mission is to put a smile on the faces of people back home. Karagounis has said that he cannot bear to see his one-time teammates struggle to put food on the table in an increasingly tumultous Greece.

Siddhartha Sharma, Mihir Vasavda, Jonathan Selvraj, Chinmay Brahme contributed to the story.