Colombia shocked a slow and out-of-sorts Greek side, 3-0, in front of a raucous house in Belo Horizonte. Goals from Pablo Armero, Teofilo Gutierrez and James Rodriguez sent the overwhelmingly pro-Colombian crowd at the Estádio Mineirão into rapture and put the South Americans firmly on course to get out of Group C. It was Colombia’s first win at the World Cup since 1998.
One would have thought that with the injured Radamel Falcao out of the World Cup went Colombia’s hopes. True, this was a game against a notoriously underwhelming Greek side — but if one can take any indications from it, Los Cafeteros could be pretty tough to handle. Showing speed, guile and no small amount of invention, Falcao’s absence actually opened up Colombia’s midfield, and Victor Ibarbo in particular was a revelation.
”It was a good debut with players who had never played a World Cup. It’s a big satisfaction,” Colombia manager Jose Pekerman said after the match. ”This is how we planned this match. Some things turned out the way we wanted, some things didn’t, but we were very focused and showed that we’re here to play a good World Cup.”
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It took only five minutes for a slick and fleet Colombian attack to carve open the Greek backline. Juan Cuadrado, who would prove to be a handful all day long, found Armero in the area, and the West Ham player sliced a shot at the net. Orestic Karnezis might have had it covered — but back Konstantinos Manolas stuck a boot out and redirected the shot past his own keeper.
The goal foiled any plans Greece might have had of parking the bus, but they were unable to easily break through Colombia’s seething midfield. Panagiotis Kone had the only chance of note for the Greeks late in the first half, when he was slipped a yard of space by Carlos Sanchez, and let fly with a shot to the top corner that keeper David Ospina parried away.
Gutierrez doubled Colombia’s advantage on the hour mark with a fine volley off a Rodriguez corner kick. Rodriguez’s set-piece whizzed in between three rooted Greek defenders, allowing Abel Aguilar to volley it on and past Karnezis for Teo to lob home. The ball didn’t touch the ground once, and as Gutierrez spun away in a dash towards the sideline, Vasilis Torosidis kicked his upright in disgust.
Rodriguez added the capper in stoppage. With the Greeks napping — and Kostas Katsouranis left on his seat — Cuadrado slipped a cheeky backheel through for Rodriguez to blast home. It was an emphatic coda on what had been an all-around dazzling game.
For much of the game, it was Colombia’s front four making all the noise. The Greek defenders, caught out early, produced a series of late, well-timed tackles to break up counters and the Colombians were often guilty of making one too many pass. While the Greeks managed a flurry after the break, the storyline remained much the same: Rodriguez stung Karnezis’ palms on the 50th minute; most of the Greek attempts resulted in easy takes for Ospina.
The Greeks’ problem was that they found a wall of yellow-shirts 18-to-30 yards out from goal. Although they made the occasional flank raid, too much of their possession was wasted in trying to beat one too many defender.
Theofanis Gekas tried to break the game open single-handedly in the 63rd when he unleashed a fierce shot from six yards — only to see it carom back off Ospina’s bar. It was a laughable miss, and he was almost immediately subbed off, his visible frustration summed up the Greeks’ day.
The path doesn’t get any easier for the Greeks: they next face a Japanese side that has the power to carve opponents apart. Colombia face what is perhaps the toughest other team in the group in Côte d’Ivoire at Brasilia, and a win would almost certainly put them into the next round.
Notable also was that American referee Mark Geiger had a solid day out at the helm of a mixed crew. Referees have been under heavy scrutiny so far at this Cup, but the MLS veteran had a blameless match, much to the relief of FIFA.
”It’s a good start, but we have to be calm for what’s ahead, which will be even more difficult,” Rodriguez said, looking ahead at Group C matches against Ivory Coast and Japan.