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World Cup preview: Group C rundown

A look at the teams competing in Group C at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil:

WORLD CUP PREVIEW

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GROUP C

COLOMBIA

FIFA World ranking: 5.

Last World Cup: 1998.

Best World Cup finish: Round of 16 (1990).

How qualified: CONMEBOL round-robin runner-up.

It's a fact: To celebrate Colombia's first World Cup appearance in 16 years, residents of an Andean village organized a soccer match last Sunday between trained herds of sheep. The sheep representing Colombia beat those playing as Brazil, 4-3.

The skinny: Colombia has been the surprise of South America under Coach Jose Pekerman, who led Argentina to the quarterfinals in 2006. But its chances in Brazil were dealt a blow Monday when Radamel Falcao, who led the team with nine goals in 13 qualifying games, was left off the World Cup roster. Falcao tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in January and though he has been training with the team he isn't fit enough to play. In his place Colombia's attacking 4-2-2-2 formation will look to midfielders James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado and striker Jackson Martinez.

GREECE

FIFA World ranking: 10.

Last World Cup: 2010.

Best World Cup finish: Group stage.

How qualified: Beat Romania in European playoff.

It's a fact: Professional soccer was not played in Greece until 1979. Eleven years later the national team qualified for its first World Cup.

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The skinny: In two previous World Cup appearances, Greece has lost five of six games and been outscored 15-2. But the defense-minded Greeks should fare a little better this time around. Ranked 10th in the world, they're coming off a solid performance in the 2012 Euros, where they reached the quarterfinals. They have little margin for error, though, so mistakes from a backline anchored by the Olympiakos pair of Dimitris Siovas and Sokratis Papastathopoulos could be deadly given Greece's limited scoring ability.

IVORY COAST

FIFA World ranking: 21.

Last World Cup: 2010.

Best World Cup finish: Group stage.

How qualified: Beat Senegal in African playoff.

It's a fact: In Ivory Coast's three World Cup appearances, only two of its players — both backup goalkeepers — came off teams playing in the country's Ligue 1 .

The skinny: The highest-ranked African team on the FIFA world table, Ivory Coast has mostly disappointed recently, going 22 years since winning its last major title in the 1992 African Cup of Nations. The athletic, physical Ivory Coast squad won't outsmart or outmaneuver too many teams but they can outrun and overpower most opponents. The aging — but still lethal — Didier Drogba (36) will be assisted up front by Roma's Gervinho (27) and Swansea City's Wilfried Bony (25) while an old backline and 34-year-old keeper Boubacar Barry will benefit from the elasticity of end-to-end midfielder Yaya Toure.

JAPAN

FIFA World ranking: 47.

Last World Cup: 2010.

Best World Cup finish: Round of 16 (2002, '10).

How qualified: Asian Group B winner.

It's a fact: Japan was the first team to qualify for each of the last three World Cups.

The skinny: Given the makeup of the group, the biggest obstacle to getting out of group play could be Japan's frustratingly inconsistent play — since October it has tied the Netherlands and beaten Belgium but also lost to Serbia and Belarus. The squad Coach Alberto Zaccheroni has chosen for Brazil is the most experienced in the country's history, boasting Manchester United's Shinji Kagawa and Milan's Keisuke Honda, among others with a European pedigree. Japan qualified for the last five World Cups but never won a game beyond group play. The pressure is on to end that streak this year.

SCHEDULE

June 14: Colombia vs. Greece in Belo Horizonte; Ivory Coast vs. Japan at Recife.

June 19: Colombia vs. Ivory Coast at Brasilia; Japan vs. Greece in Natal.

June 24: Japan vs. Colombia at Cuiaba; Greece vs. Ivory Coast at Fortaleza.

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