Group C Preview, Columbia, Ivory Coast, Greece, Japan

Group C comprising of Colombia, Ivory Coast, Greece, Japan is a very geographically diverse group, representing 4 totally different regions. Despite the presence of several talented players, the group lacks World Cup pedigree: None of the teams has made a quarter-final till date. Each team has at least one major weakness, some of which cancel each other out – which means all six fixtures are likely to be good fun.

Group C Schedule
S.No. Date Time Teams City Stadium
1 14/6 17:00 Colombia vs Greece Belo Horizonte Estadio Mineirao
2 15/6 02:00 Ivory Coast vs Japan Recife Arena Pernambuco
3 19/6 17:00 Colombia v Ivory Coast Brasilia Estadio Nacional
4 20/6 23:00 Japan v Greece Natal Arena das Dunas
5 25/6 21:00 Japan v Colombia Cuiaba Arena Pantanal
6 25/6 21:00 Greece v Ivory Coast Fortaleza Estadio Castelao

Locations

Cuiaba, Recife, Fortaleza, Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, Natal

Temperature could be a major factor in Brazil. At the Confederations Cup last year, the intense summer heat was a huge problem for teams from outside South America, with 8 Italian players requesting a half-time substitution against Brazil. That naturally hands Colombia an added weapon. In addition to being the strongest team in Group C, they have already used the weather to their advantage in qualifying, scheduling all their home matches at mid-afternoon in hot Barranquilla.

As you can see, three of the venues (Fortaleza, Recife or Natal) are coastal cities, usually warmer and more humid than cities away from the coast. Curiously, all three of Colombia’s venues are in the hinterland (Cuiaba, Brasilia, Belo Horizonte), where the peak daily temperatures are significantly lowerIt’s risky to rely excessively on these things, but the cooler weather might level the playing field for their opponents.

 Brasilia’s Mane Garrincha National Stadium is the most expensive of the lot, and can seat upto 73,000

Team Guide

Colombia

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Colombia have risen from the ‘dark horse’ tag to become one of the main contenders to at least progress to the next round. Boasting a Fifa ranking of fourth at the start of 2014 and carrying one of the most expensive European footballers in James Rodriguez, they are in the competition to prove a point, as they will be making their first appearance in the World Cup after 16 years.

Their qualification at this year’s World Cup was no less than a roller-coaster ride. They won nine of their 16 matches to earn the second spot in South America, which included a 4-0 win against Uruguay, who had come into the game on the back of a two-year unbeaten run. But they had to wait till the last game to confirm qualification due to a few underwhelming performances.

Their coach, Jose Pekerman, brings with him a variety of different formations, but to varying degrees of success, which makes it very unclear as to how they will line up at the World Cup.

Key Player – James Rodríguez

FIFA Ranking : 8

For more information, read Columbia Team Preview.

Japan

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Japan didn’t even have a professional domestic league till 1993; now they’re taking part in their 5th consecutive World Cup, having hosted the 2002 edition. It’s been a meteoric rise fuelled by money, foreign know-how and work ethic. While a technically brilliant side, Japan are yet to figure out the knockout stages.

Japan became the first team to come through qualifications for the 2014 World Cup with a hope to make it further than their previous best of second round. With 10 points from six games, Japan finished second in the third round of the Asian qualification with Uzbekistan on top. In the final group round of the qualifiers, Japan cruised to the top spot, five points adrift of Australia to book a fifth straight World Cup berth.

Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni has guided the nation to the 2011 Asian Cup glory which helped them secure a place in the 2013 Confederations Cup where Japan were thrashed badly by Brazil, Italy and Mexico.However, they seem to have found good form as a draw against the Netherlands and a victory over Belgium in late 2013 helped them prove their mettle.

Key Player – Keisuke Honda

FIFA Ranking : 46

For more information, read Japan Team Preview.

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast World Cup team

As the highest-ranked African nation, Ivory Coast will arrive for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil with some unfinished business. They suffered first-round defeats to Argentina and Netherlands in their opening matches in the 2006 World Cup, their debut appearance, while 2010 again saw them earning defeat when they drew against a Cristiano Ronaldo inspired Portugal, while suffering a 3-1 defeat against Brazil. This time around, the chances of making it to the second round are higher for the African giants.

They will pin their hopes on Didier Drogba, former Chelsea superstar and the captain for this year’s World Cup, while Manchester City’s in-form Yaya Toure will also be ready to achieve victories for his country.

One of only two nations to finish unbeaten in African qualifying (the other being Nigeria). They overcame Senegal 5-3 on aggregate in the play-offs. Lille man Salomon Kalou was top scorer with 5 goals.

Key Player – Yaya Toure

FIFA Ranking : 23

For more information, read Ivory Coast Preview.

Greece

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Greece will enter the 2014 World Cup with a lot of confidence, even though they had to go through the playoffs to qualify. Greece have a very good record of making it to the major tournaments after their surprise win at the European Championship a decade ago in 2004. They made it to the World Cup thrice out of the last four tournaments but only to add to their disappointment by being knocked out in the group stages on all three occasions.

Coach Fernando Santos likes to adopt a defensive approach, but a quarter-final appearance in the Euro 2012 means his strategy has had a considerable amount of success. Under his command, Greece will try to carry their pre-World Cup confidence to render a bold approach towards the tournament itself.

Greece’s star players Giorgos Karagounis (captain) and Kostas Kastsounaras, who holds the record for most caps, are again expected to deliver for the nation after appearing in all the qualifiers.

The Greeks are classic underdogs – lacking any real stars, but with fantastic team spirit. They will need it in spades if they are to get a whiff of the knockouts in Brazil.

Key Player – Kostas Mitroglou

FIFA Ranking : 12

For more information, read Greece Team Preview.

Key Fixture

Colombia vs Ivory Coast on 19th June. These two are the strongest sides on paper, and the difference in style – a typically Latin American, free-flowing side against a physically strong African side – should make this an interesting contest..

Observations

Even without Radamel Falcao, Colombia have the sheer quality to force their way into the knockouts. But their defence lacks pace or ability, and this could be exploited by the likes of Drogba and Yaya Toure.

Ivory Coast’s main problem is age – at 29, Kalou is the youngest survivor from the golden generation. Yaya Toure has had a great season with City, but a knee injury could keep him out of their opening fixtures, and that could prove vital if Drogba – in the twilight of his career – fails to deliver.

Greece are the worst side technically and creatively, while Japan are perhaps the best on both counts. If results were determined by visual appeal alone, both would hold very different FIFA rankings! Japan lost thrice at last summer’s Confederations Cup and lack a good striker, which could be their undoing against packed defences like Greece. While Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda flourished as central attackers, both have struggled out wide since joining Manchester United and AC Milan respectively. This tournament provides a good chance for them to remind the world of their abilities.

Predictions

Groups of Death are passe. Group C could be the first ever Group of Underdogs: 4 teams with a lot to prove, but none good enough to last the distance. The relative lack of World Cup experience makes predictions difficult, though. Nevertheless, here’s my attempt. If you disagree with the order suggested – you can see the comments section below, and you know what to do.

Predicted Leaderboard
Team   Points
Colombia 7
Ivory Coast 4
Greece 3
Japan 2

 

Greece Team Preview

The Players

Orestis Karnezis goalkeeper, Granada

Giannis Maniatis defender, Olympiakos

Giorgos Tzavellas defender, Paok

Kostas Manolas defender, Olympiakos

Vangelis Moras defender, Verona

Alexandros Tziolis midfielder, Kayserispor

Giorgos Samaras forward, Celtic

Panagiotis Kone midfielder, Bologna

Kostas Mitroglou forward, Fulham

10 Giorgos Karagounis midfielder, (captain) Fulham

11 Loukas Vyntra defender, Levante

12 Panagiotis Glykos goalkeeper, Paok

13 Stefanos Kapino goalkeeper, Panathinaikos

14 Dimitris Salpingidis forward, Paok

15 Vasilis Torosidis defender, Roma

16 Lazaros Christodoulopoulos midfielder, Bologna

17 Theofanis Gekas forward, Konyaspor

18 Giannis Fetfatzidis midfielder, Genoa

19 Sokratis Papastathopoulos defender, Borussia Dortmund

20 José Holebas defender, Olympiakos

21 Kostas Katsouranis midfielder, Paok

22 Andreas Samaris midfielder, Olympiakos

23 Panagiotis Tachtsidis midfielder, Torino

Star man

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Kostas Mitroglou, The striker, who has played 153 minutes of football since moving to London in January, was in exceptional form during the play-off against Romania, scoring three times over the two legs.

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace
Former Portsmouth striker Theofanis Gekas has fallen out with countless managers and retired from international football in 2010 citing “special circumstances within the team”. He returned to the squad a year later.

The coach

Fernando Santos had the somewhat unenviable task of taking over from Otto Rehhagel who had led Greece to triumph at Euro 2004, but the Portuguese has managed to make even more of an art form out of the 1-0 win. Five of their 10 qualifiers were won by this scoreline.

Grudge match

Old rivals Turkey haven’t qualified, and even older rivals, the Trojans, are yet to make their long-awaited comeback, which means that Greece are going to have to be inventive in their search for some needle. They did make Cristiano Ronaldo cry when they beat Portugal in the final of Euro 2004, so that’s a start, while much of the buildup to their quarter-final against Germany at Euro 2012 was given over to Clever People talking about the economy. Greece will hope not to get merked by Merkel again.

Holed up

The general manager of the Radisson in Aracaju said it was “an honour and a challenge” for his hotel to welcome the Greeks, requiring “only a few adaptations” for which they were “almost 100% prepared”. The players will train at the Lourival Baptista Stadium, which is due to be fully completed in August. “They only wanted the pitch, the changing rooms and the floodlights to be ready,” said the local tourism minister, Elber Batalha. The local airport is currently being renovated, a process scheduled to end in 2015. Still, there’s a nice beach.

How they qualified
Beat Romania 4-2 on aggregate in the play-off having been edged off top spot in Group G on goal difference by Bosnia. Goal difference is not their strong point: their 25 points in 10 qualifying games came despite only scoring 12 goals.

World Cup high
USA ‘94. Reached the World Cup finals for the very first time in their history.

World Cup low
USA ‘94. Were tonked in each of their opening games at USA ’94, firstly when a doped-up Maradona inspired Argentina to a 4-0 win. They then crashed to Bulgaria by the same score before a 2-0 defeat to Nigeria in the final match completed the American nightmare.

Familiar faces
Giorgos Karagounis (Fulham), Kostas Mitroglou (Fulham).

Title odds: 200/1

The stereotype is …
Ruthless efficiency. As demonstrated by the 2.08 points they gained for every goal scored during qualification. Strong at set-pieces, and with an often chaotic, yet extremely effective approach to defending.

The reality is …
Eh, see above. To their lethal set-piece delivery they have managed to add the chipped ball over the top for Mitroglou to run onto. And that’s about that.

What they’re known for
Smashing plates 8 per cent
Debt 42 per cent
Protesting 10 per cent
Philosophy 24 per cent
Other really old things 16 per cent

How Google translates the national anthem
I recognise you from the edge sword terrible, I know in the face violence with which measures the earth.

How long is it?
The full version has 158 verses. Thankfully we can expect a radio friendly two minutes or so.

How to dress like their fans

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Togas, centurion helmets, sandals and shields are the order of the day. Greece fans won’t be complaining about the heat.

Commentator’s go-to stat
Scored one goal every 75 minutes during their qualifying group. Conceded a goal every 225 minutes during their qualifying group. This is their third time in the World Cup – they have only won one game.

Ivory Coast Team Preview

The Players

Boubacar Barry goalkeeper, Lokeren

Ousmane Diarrassouba defender, Caykur Rizespor

Arthur Boka defender, Stuttgart

Kolo Touré defender, Liverpool

Didier Zokora defender, Trabzonspor

Mathis Bolly forward, Fortuna Düsseldorf

Jean-Daniel Akpa-Akpro defender, Toulouse

Salomon Kalou forward, Lille

Cheik Tioté midfielder, Newcastle United

10 Gervinho forward, Roma

11 Didier Drogba (captain) forward, Galatasaray

12 Wilfried Bony forward, Swansea City

13 Didier Ya Konan midfielder, Hannover

14 Ismaël Diomandé midfielder, Saint-Étienne

15 Max Gradel forward, Saint-Étienne

16 Sylvain Gbohouo goalkeeper, Séwé Sport

17 Serge Aurier defender, Toulouse

18 Constant Djakpa defender, Eintracht Frankfurt

19 Yaya Touré midfielder, Manchester City

20 Serey Die midfielder, Basel

21 Giovanni Sio forward, Basel

22 Sol Bamba defender, Trabzonspor

23 Sayouba Mandé goalkeeper, Stabaek

Star man

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Yaya Touré is a bull of a midfield player who leaves defenders looking like trampled daisies. His return of 20 Premier League goals would have scooped the player of the year awards in a normal season after his blockbusting displays for Manchester City. He should be given licence to push forward to cause maximum destruction, although his considerable skills will definitely be needed elsewhere too.

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace …

The dirty work will fall to the aptly-named Serey Die. Having been banned for four months for walking out on his club in Algeria, the tough-tackling defensive midfielder was accused of match-fixing (an accusation he denied) while at Sion in 2010 after turning up to training in a new Porsche days after his fifth red card in the space of just 14 months. But Die’s proudest moment came two years later when he was banned for eight matches for slapping a 13-year-old ballboy.

The coach

A failed experiment with a home-grown manager, Francois Zahoui, saw ‘The Elephants’ return to the tried and tested formula of a European head coach. Sabri Lamouchi has done what was expected and reached the finals. Now to get out of the group.

Grudge match

After qualifying at the expense of bitter enemies Senegal, Lamouchi has bigger fish to fry. An opportunity to put one over former colonial masters France would be top of his list after being one of six unlucky players who were left out of Aimé Jacquet’s Les Bleus squad on the eve of their 1998 triumph.

Holed up

The Oscar Inn Eco Resort in Águas de Lindoia, 170km to the north of São Paulo, is owned and run by none other than Oscar Bernardi from Brazil’s 1982 World Cup side. So they can expect plenty of stories of what could and might have been for Zico and friends. And there’s always the nearby thermal baths and fresh springs from a region that supplies 60% of Brazil’s mineral water.

How they qualified
Beat Senegal 4-2 on aggregate in a two-legged play-off after winning a group containing Morocco, Tanzania and Gambia.

World Cup high
The joy of qualifying for the tournament for the first time in 2006 was tempered slightly when they found themselves in a group with Argentina, Holland and Serbia & Montenegro. It proved too tough a task for Didier Drogba and co.

World Cup low
The group stage elimination four years ago in South Africa was tough to take for what, on paper, is Africa’s strongest sign. They are not known as ‘chokers’ for nothing.

Familiar faces
Kolo Touré (Liverpool), Yaya Touré (Manchester City), Cheick Tioté (Newcastle United), Arouna Koné (Everton).

Title odds: 100/1

The stereotype is …
Pace, power, raw talent, naïve at the back, doing it for Africa.

The reality is …
If anything the failings of the Ivory Coast’s ‘golden generation’ has come as a result of playing with caution and a sense that they are weighed down by the expectation levels.

What they’re known for
Didier Drogba 50 per cent
Civil war 20 per cent
Beaches 20 per cent
Alpha Blondy 10 per cent

How Google translates the national anthem
Hi O land of hope; Country hospitality. Your gallant legions noted your dignity.

How long it lasts
A disjointed 70 seconds.

How to dress like their fans 

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Head-to-toe white body paint, sunglasses and an elaborate hand-carved elephant-head mask. Pretty straightforward really.

Commentator’s go-to stat
Expect patronising comments such as: ‘They’re not just playing for the 20 million people back in the Ivory Coast. They’re carrying the hopes of one billion Africans.’

Japan Team Preview

The Players

Eiji Kawashima goalkeeper, Standard Liège

Atsuto Uchida defender, Schalke

Gotoku Sakai defender, Stuttgart

Keisuke Honda midfielder, Milan

Yuto Nagatomo defender, Internazionale

Masato Morishige defender, FC Tokyo

Yasuhito Endo midfielder, Gamba Osaka

Hiroshi Kiyotake midfielder, Nürnberg

Shinji Okazaki forward, Mainz

10 Shinji Kagawa midfielder, Manchester United

11 Yoichiro Kakitani forward, Cerezo Osaka

12 Shusaku Nishikawa goalkeeper, Urawa Red Diamonds

13 Yoshito Okubo forward, Kawasaki Frontale

14 Toshihiro Aoyama midfielder, Sanfrecce Hiroshima

15 Yasuyuki Konno defender, Gamba Osaka

16 Hotaru Yamaguchi midfielder, Cerezo Osaka

17 Makoto Hasebe (captain) midfielder, Nürnberg

18 Yuya Osako forward, 1860 München

19 Masahiko Inoha defender, Jubilo Iwata

20 Manabu Saito forward, Yokohama F Marinos

21 Hiroki Sakai defender, Hannover

22 Maya Yoshida defender, Southampton

23 Shoichi Gonda goalkeeper, FC Tokyo

Star man

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A toss-up between Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa and AC Milan-bound Keisuke Honda. In his preferred No10 role, Kagawa will have the chance to show why there has been such a clamour in certain quarters for his inclusion in the United side.

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace…
Kesuike Honda can be outspoken at times. With the pressure on this Japan side, if things don’t go their way Honda may have his say.

The coach

Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni took over after the 2010 World Cup and led Japan to the 2011 Asian Cup title. Three defeats in the Confederations Cup last summer raised questions about his tactics.

Grudge match

Last year Japan beat South Korea 2-1 in the East Asian Cup final. Highlights included South Korea fans displaying a banner reading “the nation that forgets history has no future”, Japan’s sports minister Hakubun Shimomura saying the behaviour called into question “the nature of their people”, and South Korea’s government calling him “rude”. A semi-final in Brazil would be tense.

Holed up

The Spa Sport Resort in Itu, outside São Paulo – one whirlpool bath per player. Recife, where Japan play their opener, is a 1,622-mile stone’s throw away. “It was hard to decide,” Zaccheroni said, “whether to base ourselves in a warm place [like Recife] to acclimatise, or in a nice cool place for training which would mean three-hour flights every five days. I chose the latter. This is a peaceful place, in the suburbs. The food is good and there’s lots of green”.

How they qualified
The first team to qualify for the World Cup way back in early June. Lost just once (away in Jordan) on their way to finishing four points clear of Australia.

World Cup high
The noise that followed goals from Takayuki Sazuki and Junichi Inamoto in their first game of the 2002 World Cup on home soil. The match ended in a 2-2 draw against Belgium but Japan had arrived.

World Cup low
Japan had set themselves a target of reaching the semi-finals but defeat on penalties to Paraguay and last-16 brought an abrupt end to that particular dream.

Familiar faces
Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United).

Title odds: 100/1

The stereotype is…
Diminutive bundles of energy who never give in but will ultimately come up short against physically stronger opponents.

The reality is…
On their day they are a skilful, pacy and attacking side – the footballing hipster’s choice. Expect to see their shirt being worn in East London bars.

What they’re known for
Sushi 30 per cent
Karaoke 30 per cent
Karate 20 per cent
Sumo 10 per cent
Fast trains 10 per cent

How Google translates the national anthem
Sazare of stone. The become Iwao. Until the eggplant Moss.

How long it lasts
The shortest anthem of all. Blink and you’d miss it.

How to dress like their fans

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Women dress as geishas, men as sumo wrestlers. Everyone carries hand fans. Crank the enthusiasm up to 11.

Commentator’s go-to stat
Japan have been invited to play at the 2015 Copa America. They played in the South American championships once before -1999 – and failed to win a game. No wonder they’re invited back.

Columbia Team Preview

The Players

David Ospina, goalkeeper Nice

Cristián Zapata, defender Milan

Mario Yepes, defender Atalanta

Santiago Arias, defender PSV Eindhoven

5 Aldo Leão Ramírez, midfielder Morelia

6 Carlos Sánchez Moreno, midfielder Elche

Pablo Armero, defender West Ham United

Abel Aguilar, midfielder Toulouse

9 Teófilo Gutiérrez, forward River Plate

10 James Rodríguez, midfielder Monaco

11 Juan Cuadrado, midfielder Fiorentina

12 Camilo Vargas, goalkeeper Santa Fe

13 Fredy Guarín, midfielder Internazionale

14 Víctor Ibarbo, forward Cagliari

15 Alexander Mejía, midfielder Atlético Nacional

16 Éder Balanta, defender River Plate

17 Carlos Bacca, forward Sevilla

18 Juan Zúñiga, defender Napoli

19 Adrián Ramos, forward Hertha Berlin

20 Juan Quintero, midfielder Porto

21 Jackson Martínez, forward Porto

22 Faryd Mondragón, goalkeeper Deportivo Cali

23 Carlos Valdés, defender San Lorenzo

Star man

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James Rodríguez, 22, has long been hailed as “El Nuevo Pibe” [the New Kid]. A two-footed playmaker who can play across the midfield, he won eight trophies in three years at Porto before £37m took him to Monaco last summer.

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace
Cristian Zapata. Given his first chance under new coach Pekerman, Zapata marked the occasion by brawling with Gonzalo Higuain and getting sent off.

The coach

José Pékerman’s soft-spoken, professorial style, limited media interaction, posse of advisers and advanced years at 64 made his appointment unpopular. But guiding Columbia to the World Cup for the first time in 16 years has seen him twice named South America’s top coach by Uruguayan paper El País. He has experience aplenty at this level. He led Argentina to the quarter-finals in Germany in 2006 where they lost to the hosts on penalties, and gave Lionel Messi his international debut in 2005. Although the Argentinian ended his playing career at Medellín’s Atlético Nacional and has now been granted citizenship.

Grudge match

Though there’s always a bit of niggle when the neighbours are in town, Argentina have long been the team Colombians love to beat. A 5-0 victory in Buenos Aires in 1993 is still fondly recalled two decades on, while with their Argentinian coach, Colombia came close to topping the qualification group ahead of Lionel Messi’s men.

Holed up

São Paulo’s secluded training complex in Cotia, 45km from the state capital, has two swimming pools, two lakes and 11 training pitches. Los Cafeteros (“Coffee men”) have asked for 15 young players to be made available to help them prepare for other teams’ whippersnappers at the tournament.

How they qualified
Second behind Argentina, clinching their spot by coming back from 3-0 down to draw 3-3 against Chile.

World Cup high
Even their best effort, the last 16 in 1990, ended in calamity when Roger Milla robbed Rene Higuita and scored into an empty net.

World Cup low
Hard to imagine a bigger disaster than USA ’94, where they started as one of the favourites and ended up eliminated in the first round, with their captain shot dead.

Familiar faces
No one.

Title odds: 25/1

The stereotype is …
Unbelievably gifted, slightly unhinged players who can rip you apart if they haven’t been paid off by a drug kingpin first.

The reality is …
Unbelievably gifted, slightly unhinged players who can rip you apart going forward but occasionally look a bit doddery at the back. Powerful, flexible and technically adept, after experimenting with 3-5-2 and 4-2-3-1, Colombia settled on 4-2-2-2 as the best way of unleashing key players’ potential.

What are they known for?
Coffee beans 42 per cent
Their other main export crop 25 per cent
Shakira 22 per cent
Higuita’s scorpion kick 11 per cent

How Google translates the national anthem
“The virgin her hairs starts in agony, widow and his love cypress hangs. Regretting her hope covering cold headstone but glorious pride her fair complexion.”

Duration
Eleven verses with choruses. No word on whether Don McLean was involved.

How to dress like their fans

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Big tall hats in the country’s yellow, blue and red colours. Carlos Valderrama wigs also go down well.

Commentator’s go-to stat
Because of its position on the equator, Colombia does not have seasons. But then what do they call their transfer windows?