Belo Horizonte: Colombia defeated Greece 3-0 in the opening match of Group C at the World Cup. Both sides had a lot to prove after a number of poor World Cup showings between them, and the match showed a lot of promise from the whistle. The South American side got off to a dream start in the fifth minute when good work by tricky winger Juan Cuadrado set up defender Pablo Armero, whose shot went in off a Greek defender.
After that, much of the first-half was one-way traffic as the Greeks went in search of a reply. Gerogios Samaras attacked down the left before pulling back a good pass to Panagiotis Kone, but the midfielder’s effort went wide of the post. Samaras was Greece’s liveliest player for long periods of the game and on the half-hour mark, the Celtic man saw his shot saved by David Ospina. Again the Greeks came close to leveling on the stroke of half-time, but Kone’s fierce effort was acrobatically palmed away by Ospina.
The second-half was no different from the first, in that Greece dominated possession and were the only side showing any attacking threat. It was not until the 50th minute that the Colombians put together an attack. James Rodríguez powered through the middle before unleashing a drive, but his effort was saved by Greece stopper Orestis-Spyridon Karnezis.
Then in the 58th minute, completely against the run of play, Teófilo Gutiérrez finished off a James free-kick to double Colombia’s lead. Greece was down but not out as five minutes later, Kone fired in a cross towards the far post, which was knocked back into the danger area by Vasilios “Vasilis” Torosidis. However, Theofanis Gekas could only direct his diving header onto the bar.
For a side that prides itself on its defensive play, Greece was throwing men forward in the hope of pulling a goal back. However, James and Víctor Ibarbo looked dangerous on the counter. It also appeared Colombia were not content sitting on the 2-0 lead as Gutiérrez, injured in the first half, was replaced by marksman Jackson Martínez. Just two minutes later, the Greece boss raised eyebrows when he replaced the impressive Kone with 37-year-old veteran Georgios Karagounis.
If the match began in entertaining fashion, it was Colombia’s aim to make sure it did not end that way. José Pékerman’s side strung a number of superfluous passes together to kill the game. Greece began to look tired and in the 83rd minute, Torosidis claimed he should be given a penalty, but the American referee Mark W. Geiger waved away the Greek protestations.
In the last five minutes, Samaras came close to scoring a consolation goal for his country, but his fine first touch and clever turn resulted in a shot that curled wide. Soon after, James, arguably Colombia’s best player in the match could have killed the game with a third, but the midfielder’s jinking run in to Greece’s penalty area was snuffed out. Nevertheless, James did not give up and deservedly made it 3-0 after good work by Cuadrado and Juan Zúñiga allowed him to take possession and coolly shoot past Karnezis. Colombia’s 3-0 victory sends the side to the top of World Cup Group C. The other two nations in the group, Japan and Côte d’Ivoire, meet later today. For a group widely considered to be the weakest at the Brazil World Cup, it has certainly made a blistering start.
Commentary by Robert Shepherd