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Colombia opens against Greece

Belo Horizonte, Brazil (SportsNetwork.com) - Colombia may be embarking on its World Cup journey without its best player, but will still hope for a positive start to Group C play on Saturday against Greece at the Estadio Mineirao.

Star striker Radamel Falcao was officially ruled out of the Colombia team just over a week before the tournament due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered in Ligue 1 play back in January.

He was hopeful to make a quick recovery, but lost the race to be fit and was subsequently left off the roster.

At the age of 28, it could be Falcao's last chance to be the nation's star player at a World Cup, but it's a chance he will not get. It also severely hinders Colombia's odds of making a deep run in the tournament.

Given the relative lack of strength in the group, Colombia should not need Falcao to reach the knockout stage, but his absence certainly puts the offensive pressure elsewhere.

Teofilo Gutierrez, Adrian Ramos and Jackson Martinez figure to be the key players up front while James Rodriguez and Fredy Guarin will provide support in the midfield.

Gutierrez was Colombia's second-highest scorer in South American qualifying as his total of six goals was three fewer than Falcao's output.

Ramos, who recently completed a move to Borussia Dortmund, and Martinez of FC Porto are accomplished players on the club side of football but have combined to score just 10 goals in 51 appearances for the national team. They will need to shoulder some of the scoring burden to assist Gutierrez.

Greece, meanwhile, will be aiming to capture the spirit that saw them make an unlikely run to a 2004 European Championship title.

Greece narrowly missed out on the knockout round in 2010, finishing one point back of Group B runners-up South Korea.

Giorgios Samaras will be a key figure in helping the Greeks reach the second round. The 29-year-old striker is the most experienced player in the nation's forward stable and he is coming off a club season that saw him net seven league goals for Scottish champions Celtic.

In addition to Samaras, Giorgios Karagounis remains one of Greece's most important midfield players. He is the nation's captain, but at 37 years old, it's fair wonder how much he can contribute in a physically demanding tournament.

Greece's strength, however, lies in its defense. Orestis Karnezis will anchor the side in goal while the likes of Loukas Vyntra and Vasilis Torosidis will attempt to ensure that Karnezis has little to do.

The Greeks certainly won't bury the opposition with goals, but if they can consistently maintain their defensive shape they can make life difficult for the Colombians.

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