Dark horses Colombia recorded a very comfortable win against Greece in the day’s early kick off. It was a spirited effort by the Greeks, but they never really threatened the Colombian defence, and the South American’s were in full control very early on once West Ham left back Pablo Amero gave them the lead.
Much has been made of the injury to Radamel Falcao, but Colmbia have a host of goal scoring threats, including Carlos Bacca, Adrian Ramos and Jackson Martinez. However, none of these heavyweight strikers were handed a start, with Pekerman instead placing his faith in River Plate forward Teofilo Gutierrez who had previously partnered Falcao so well. His faith was to be rewarded approaching the mark when Gutierrez added a second following a James Rodriguez corner. A Theofanis Gekas header proved to be Greece’s best chance, but struck the bar. Rodriguez added a late third, after good work by the excellent Cuadrado.
Next up was the big shock of the day, following on from Holland’s domination of Spain the day before, a much tipped Uruguay side collapsed against supposed minnows Costa Rica. Uruguay eased into the match, finding their rhythm in the first half, taking the lead after Junior Diaz manhandled Diego Lugano in the box. The penalty was given, and Edinson Cavani cooly converted. It could have been more for Uruguay heading into the break, and Oscar Tabarez’ men were punished for not adding to their lead in the second half.
Arsenal stiker Joel Campbell, who previously made headlines for scoring against Manchester United in the Champions League whilst on loan at Olympiakos, took the game by the scruff of the neck to spark a Costa Rican revival. Campbell first threatened with a long ranged shot, and then, after 54 minutes, was inexplicably left free in the box to turn home after Celso Borges nudged on a Cristian Gamboa cross. The lead came two minutes later. Frustration telling, Walter Gargano brought down Bryan Ruiz, and Duarte brilliantly turned home a pin-point Christian Bolanos free kick. Life went bad to worse for Uruguay, the match ending with a third for Los Ticos by Urena, and Pereira being sent off for a cruel and cynical tackle on Campbell.
The day’s most anticipated fixture took place in the hot and humid Manaus, Italy edging England in a tightly contested affair. Things started brightly for England who took the front foot against Italy, Raheen Sterling in particular a bright spark on his competitive international debut, hitting a long range strike that many thought was in. A front four of Rooney, Sturridge, Sterling and Welbeck caused all sorts of problems for an Italy backline vulnerable to their pace and thrust. However, England were let down by their defence on the day, and it was Italy that took the lead with a well worked set-piece, Andrea Pirlo nonchalantly setting up Marchisio for a well struck effort on the edge of the area.
England heads did not drop though, and pegged the Azzurri back almost immediately. Sterling released Rooney on the left with a magnificent through ball, and the Manchester United man showed his quality to send in the cross of the day for Sturridge to tap home. It was the highlight of a frustrating night for Rooney who, out of position, was forced to sacrifice his own game. The left flank was a real vulnerability throughout the first half, Antonio Candreva regularly finding pockets of space as Leighton Baines struggled positionally when faced with both Candreva and left back Damian. Although needing more protection, Baines did not perform well enough, and one couldn’t help but think that Ashley Cole might have coped better. With Rooney and Welbeck doing so well going forward, Henderson or Gerrard needed to come across and help Baines, but they didn’t and England were punished, Balotelli heading home another Candreva cross, his run not covered by Glen Johnson. England fought back once again, probing the Italy defence to no avail. Rooney had the best chance to equalise, narrowly shooting wide after wrong footing Sirigu. That final pass or shot was lacking, and Gerrard was fortunate to avoid criticism for what was a very average performance.
Last up, for those that persevered through a long night of football was Japan against the Ivory Coast, a classic encounter of precision against power. Despite an initial display of dominance by the Africans, they could not break down a tactically sound Japanese side, and their technical superiority soon played dividends, Keisuke Honda turning on the edge of the area before powerfully burying his shot past Boubacar Barry to nestle in The Elephants’ net. From that moment, the Japanese looked very comfortable, the Ivory Coast unable to unlock a well drilled defence. Star man Yaya Toure failed to deliver, and Wilfried Bony in particular was guilty of failing to convert decent chance.
That all changed with the introduction of talismanic stiker Didier Drogba, which seemed to lift the Ivory Coast. When the equaliser did come just moments later, Drogba was not involved, but his very presence seemed to inspire better performances from his teammates, Serge Aurier providing an excellent cross for Bony to head home. Another followed shortly, Aurier once again the provider, this time for former Arsenal winger Gervinho and what proved to be the winner. Aurier could soon find himself an Arsenal player, having flirted with the Gunners for weeks. This performance and more like it could be what is needed to convince Wenger that he is the man to replace Sagna at right back.
What’s the significance?
Colombia lived up to their billing as favourites of Group C, and look likely to remain top of their group if they retain that level of performance. The Ivory Coast now have the edge in the battle with Japan for 2nd place, with the Asian side now likely to need a difficult win against Colombia to remain in contention.
There is very much still hope for England in Group D, who despite losing narrowly to Italy, will have taken heart from Uruguay’s surprise loss to Costa Rica, and will be confident in their abilities to beat both of the South American sides. Italy are now favourites to claim top spot, although must be wary; Costa Rica have already proved they are not prepared to lie down as the group’s whipping boys, and Uruguay can perform much better than they did against Los Ticos and will not have given up.
Rodriguez, Joel Campbell and Marchisio all scored fine goals, but Keisuke Honda’s has to go down as the pick of the bunch in what was another high scoring day of football. The AC Milan man scored the goal to send Japan through qualification, and will no doubt be pleased with his excellent effort following a difficult first season in Italy.
Special mention must also go to Andrea Pirlo who almost scored an outrageous free kick and Italy’s third against England. Seemingly too far out to score, Pirlo almost delivered the improbable with a swerving effort that left Hart helpless and seemed to defy the laws of physics. It was not to be however, and the Juventus man instead struck the cross bar, although as Thierry Henry joked, Pirlo is so good, that may well have been intentional.
Thankfully there were no real controversial refereeing decisions to taint what was an excellent day of World Cup football.
James Rodriguez and Juan Guillermo Cuadrado were both sensational for Colombia against Greece, and Keisuke Honda and Serge Aurier also both impressed for their respective sides in the match between Japan and the Ivory Coast. Last night’s star performer though comes from Italy versus England. Special mention must go to the peerless Andrea Pirlo and the vibrant Raheem Sterling, but above the rest was Antonio Candreva. My man of the match, Candreva tormented Leighton Baines all night, constantly finding space to deliver perfect crosses, one of which was nodded home by Mario Balotelli for Italy’s winner. The Lazio man had come under some criticism before the match, but quickly proved his doubters wrong.