Colombia 3 Greece 0 match report: James Rodriguez and Colombia lead toothless Greeks a merry dance

The opening game of Group C sees Colombia record an easy victory

While the biggest impression Colombia has made on recent World Cups has been Shakira and that unpleasant Waka Waka business in South Africa four years ago, it may be that the country is ready to make some waves on the pitch this summer in Brazil. Jose Pekerman’s talented side were certainly too good for a toothless Greece at the Mineirao in Belo Horizonte this afternoon.

Roared on by a sea of yellow-clad fans and driven forward by crafty 22-year-old attacking midfielder James Rodriguez, Colombia barely missed injured striker Radamel Falcao, though they will need to beat better sides than Greece to go much beyond the group stage.

While many expected Carlos Bacca of Seville or Porto’s Jackson Martinez to step into the Falcao role, Colombia’s Argentina-born coach Jose Pekerman sprang a surprise by plumping instead for pacey Victor Ibarbo of Cagliari. It was an inspired choice. While he was rarely as spectacular as Falcao can be, Ibarbo’s industry and strength cutting in from the left troubled a leaden Greek defence throughout the game.

It was not, however, all plain sailing. Greece dominated possession in the first half, and when Fernando Santos’ men pushed forward in greater numbers the Colombian defence, led by 38-year-old captain Mario Yepes, looked creaky.

 

Colombia’s opener came after five minutes and had a made-in-east-London feel to it. After Cuadrado cleverly made space down the right and rolled the ball across the penalty area, Rodriguez’s neat step-over flummoxed the defence and allowed Pablo Armero – on loan at West Ham from Napoli – to slot home. That made Armero the fourth West Ham player to score at a World Cup finals, joining Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters and Matthew Upson.

The first half was intriguing but hardly electric after that, with Greece keeping the ball for lengthy periods but unable to create many real chances. Their best moments came when right-back Vasileios Torosidis nodded just past the post from Jose Holebas’s free-kick after half an hour, and, as the first half drew to a close, a thumping drive from dangerous midfielder Panagiotis Kone.

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Ospina celebrates during the game

 

Neither did Colombia threaten much, though one memorable moment saw the venerable Yepes rumble half the length of the pitch before running aground.

It was a different story after half-time, however, as the South Americans came out looking much the brighter side. They got their reward on 58 minutes when Toulouse midfielder Aguilar flicked on a low Rodriguez corner and striker Teofilo Gutierrez flicked home.

The talented Gutierrez is no stranger to controversy – he once threatened a team-mate with a replica gun in the changing room – but playing under the fatherly Pekerman, looks to be enjoying his football.

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He may be a symbol for Colombia’s hopes of leaving the disappointments of its troubled past behind and finally emerging as a global footballing force. This, after all, was the country’s first World Cup finals game since defeat against England in 1998, when Darren Anderton and a 23-year-old David Beckham scored the goals in a 2-0 win that marked the end of the dreams of a golden yet broken generation of players such as Carlos Valderrama, Freddy Rincon and Faustino Asprilla.

There was certainly no shortage of optimism for Colombia here though, and even enough time for Rodriguez (left) to slide home a third goal in stoppage time. After this impressive performance Colombia’s next two games, against Ivory Coast in Brasilia and Japan in Cuiaba, now look very winnable. Topping the group would set up a tie against the second place team from Group D – which may  even be England again 16 years on.

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