After being entertained by the first two days of the World Cup, the excitement and goals continued to flow in the opening games of Group C and D.
Colombia 3-0 Greece
On paper, this tie was a match-up of the miserly defences. Only Spain had conceded fewer goals than the Greeks during the European qualifying campaign, while Colombia proved to have the most stingy rearguard during South America’s qualifying rounds.
Hellas surprising had the lion’s share of possession and uncharacteristically pressed high against their opponents with Colombia being excellent on the counter-attack. Pablo Armero, Teofilo Gutierrez and James Rodriguez scored the goals to win 3-0, which in truth flattered Colombia—at 2-0 Greece rattled the crossbar, through Theofanis Gekas, demonstrating that the margins of error at the highest level are tiny.
Ivory Coast 2-1 Japan
AC Milan’s Keisuke Honda scored an emphatic goal to give the Blue Samurai the lead against the Ivorians—adding to his personal World Cup tally of two goals from the 2010 World Cup.
Alberto Zaccheroni’s Japan had been tipped as dark horses for the 2014 World Cup but Wilfried Bony converted a brilliant cross from Serge Aurier in the 64th minute.
Moments later Aurier was provider again, supplying a carbon copy cross for Gervinho to head the winner.
“We did not start very well in the game, conceding the first goal from a careless mistake, then we created many good chances. Having a player like Didier Drogba in the team, or among the substitutes, changes a game.”—Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi
Italy 2-1 England
The evergreen 35-year-old Andrea Pirlo produced another masterclass performance against England, in what was, to date, the match of the tournament.
The Juventus midfielder’s 116 touches against the Three Lions has set the pace as a tournament high.
Roy Hodgson opted for youth, as Raheem Sterling started the match in the central playmaking role. Whilst the Liverpool youngster fashioned chances for his team mates and caused the Italians numerous problems, Wayne Rooney was placed out to the left, minimising his impact on the game—evident with only two touches inside the Italian penalty area.
England’s left hand side was ruthlessly exposed time and time again by the Azzurri’s brilliant Matteo Darmian and Antonio Candreva.
The Bianconeri’s chief engine room operator, Claudio Marchisio, gave the Italians the lead in the 35th minute following a brilliantly executed move from a corner. Far from being despondent, England immediately responded as Sterling threaded an intricate pass, which Pirlo himself would have been proud of, to release Rooney down the left. The Manchester United front man sent over a perfect cross for Daniel Sturridge to coolly convert the equaliser.
English tails were up but Italy fashioned more chances towards the half-time interval. Mario Balotelli had an effort headed off the line but in the 50th minute, another precise attack down the right, again exposed England’s fragile left, and Balotelli headed the winner. England battled on and Rooney was close to scoring the second but just shot wide.
Pirlo, perhaps unhappy that he did not enjoy all of the limelight, crashed a swerving and dipping free-kick against the crossbar, as a dumbfounded Joe Hart could only look on vain.
Despite several of England’s players worryingly suffering from cramp, the Three Lions will be hugely encouraged with their performance but now face, arguably, an even more stern test in the must-win match against Uruguay on Thursday.
Costa Rica 3-1 Uruguay
Without the injured Luis Suarez, Uruguay were shocked by Costa Rica. The Central Americans found themselves 1-0 down early in the second following an Edinson Cavani penalty. Uruguay pressed for a second, resulting in Ticos goalkeeper, Kaylor Navas producing the save of the World Cup so far from a deflected Diego Forlan strike.
Two rapid fire goals in the second half from Joel Campbell and Oscar Duarte, the latter with a brave diving header, turned the tie on its head. Marco Urena sealed the win late on and Maxi Pereira compounded Uruguay’s misery. losing his cool to earn the World Cup’s first red card.
Uruguay now must avoid defeat against England to keep their hopes alive of progressing to the knock-out rounds.
Group E: Switzerland vs Ecuador; France vs Honduras
Group F: Argentina vs Bosnia; Iran vs Nigeria