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 3 Greece 0 player ratings
Colombia 3 Greece 0 player ratings
1/21 David Ospina
Had relatively little to do but did save superbly from Kone’s effort - 7/10
2/21 Camilo Zuniga
Started brightly but faded in the second half as Columbia’s stars took over - 6
3/21 Pablo Armero
Got Columbia off to the best of starts with his early goal and was sound at the back - 8
4/21 Carlos Sanchez
Coped well with everything Greece could muster - 7
5/21 Cristian Zapata
Not as effective going forward as fellow full-back Armero but did fine - 6
6/21 Mario Yepes
7/21 Juan Cuadrado
Columbia’s best player throughout with his creativity and composure. Set up two of the three goals and was a threat all game - 9
8/21 Abel Aguilar
Great movement and flick on for Columbia’s second goal - 7
9/21 Teofilo Gutierrez
Filled the boots of Falcao up front with style. Deserved his goal very much and contributed well throughout - 8
10/21 James Rodriguez
Guilty of over playing at times but his class was on shown all match long. Added a smart final goal to crown Columbia’s opening game in style - 8
11/21 Victor Ibarbo
Did ok but not quite at his best, could find his starting place lost to Martinez or Bacca in the next game - 6
12/21 Orestis Karnezis
Helpless after deflected first goal and then could do nothing with the next two. Didn’t do much wrong but won’t be happy after shipping three goals - 6/10
13/21 Vasileios Torosidis
Good going forward all game and had a few half chances fall his way. Failed to do his task to his best ability in defence though - 6
14/21 Jose Holebas
Did well in attack, like his fellow full-back but Columbia proved too much for him in defence - 6
15/21 Panagiotis Kone
Came close on more than one occasion and was a threat but didn’t have quite enough quality to finish the chances that came his way - 7
16/21 Kostas Manolas
Like his centre-back partner, helpless to stop the Columbia onslaught at times - 5
17/21 Sokratis Papastathopoulos
Couldn’t cope with Columbia’s pace and skill and got caught out more than once - 5
18/21 Dimitris Salpingidis
Booked for a nasty foul in second half due to his lack of pace when compared to Columbia’s midfield - 5
19/21 Kostas Katsouranis
Did fine in his 112th cap and played his part in Greece’s best moments going forward - 6
20/21 Theofanis Gekas
Failed to carve out any real efforts until hitting the bar from all of 5 yards when really should have scored - 4
21/21 Georgos Samaras
Greece’s best player. Didn’t stop working both in defence and attack. Had several half decent efforts and didn’t really deserve to be on the losing side - 8
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.
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.
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.Reuse content