The Ivory Coast have been Africa’s strongest team, on paper at least, for a number of years now, but are perennial underperformers. They started slowly against Japan in their opening match, going a goal before coming back to win the game two goals to one. In last night’s match against Colombia though Ivory Coast could not repeat that feat, and paid the price for not heeding early warnings from the South American side. James Rodriguez was integral throughout, and his pass put the Ivorian goal at Teo Gutierrez only for the River Plate striker to inexplicably put it wide. Cuadrado was the next to go close, fresh from an excellent performance against Greece, his shot from a tight angle touched onto the far corner and out by Barry.
When the goal did come, it was once again James Rodriguez that stood up to be counted, heading in from a well taken Cuadrado corner. Colombia’s celebration perfectly captured the fun, entertainment and carnival atmosphere that has made this World Cup such a joy to watch with a rehearsed group dance. Ivory Coast offered little going forward, Wilfried Bony in particular culpable, this performance against Colombia no better than his woeful first half against Japan. The Elephants did improve once the Swansea man was replaced by Didier Drogba, but the closest the Ivory Coast really got was a dangerous Serge Aurier cross saved by David Ospina.
It was Colombia though who got the next goal, the Ivory Coast architects of their own downfall, Serey Die caught in possession by James Rodriguez, who quickly laid the ball of to Gutierrez, whose through ball was put away efficiently by substitute Quintero. Die had every right to be distracted it must be said, and can be excused for his error having learnt about the death of his father just hours before kick-off; he was obviously emotional and deserves so much credit for playing through his grief. The Ivory Coast did reply, Gervinho embarking on a mazy dribble, beating several defenders before finding the back of the net. His shot though really should have been saved by David Ospina, who got a decent hand to the strike. 2-1 would stay the final result, Drogba and co unable find that extra gear needed to break past Colombia.
In what was a very good performance against Italy, England, despite losing, attacked with a verve and adventure that boded well for future fixtures. That impressive display, coupled with Uruguay’s collapse to group minnows turned England from a team free from the burden of expectations into a team very much expected to go on and defeat Uruguay. It was a game that started very evenly, Cavani and Suarez probing, and Wayne Rooney going close with a free kick early on. The Manchester United man has received a huge amount of flak from the press in recent weeks, even prior to his average display against Italy, but he was England’s best player on the night and unlucky not to score from a Steven Gerrard corner, unable to get above the ball, and instead nodding the ball onto the crossbar.
That delivery was Gerrard’s only positive contribution of the match. Having largely escaped criticism for his anonymity against Italy, Gerrard had no one to hide behind against Uruguay. On several occasions Gerrard was guilty of putting in half-hearted challenges and losing out in 50/50s that he really should have been willing. The Liverpool man’s complacency eventually led to Uruguay taking the lead, his paper challenge allowing club team mate Luis Suarez to scamper free. All eyes had been on Suarez’ fitness ahead of the game, but he reserved his energy well, and exploded to life once passed Gerrard, passing to Cavani, continuing his run into the box and nodding home from the PSG striker’s perfect ball. As exquisite as Cavani’s chipped cross was, from just 16 metres out, he should not have been able to cut out the entire England backline. It was Jagielka that failed to either follow Suarez’ run, or hold his line to play the Uruguayan offside, but it would be very unfair to place sole responsibility on the Everton captain, the whole back four contributing to a comedy of errors.
The goal seemed to knock any confidence out of England, who within ten minutes of the second half, handed three good chances to Oscar Tabarez’ men, making mistake after mistake and struggling to get hold of possession. After hanging on, England did manage to start to exert some pressure, full backs Johnson and Baines becoming more influential. Rooney continued to provide the Three Lions’ only real goal threat, and perhaps should have scored when his close range effort was saved by Muslera from ten yards. The equaliser did come, and Rooney was finally able to shed his record of having not scored at a World Cup finals, tapping in with his left foot following good work on the right by Glen Johnson.
At that point in the games, England did look the more likely team to win, but once again the Three Lions were undone by their own carelessness. Muslera’s clearance should have been comfortably headed away by Gerrard, but was instead was nodded on towards a delighted Luis Suarez who had gambled on Cavani getting a touch, making a great run and steeling a march on a dozing England backline. The finish by El Pistolero was predictably emphatic, striking powerfully even as his legs appeared buckle and finally give way. There was no way back for England after that in what was a poor, poor performance. This side didn’t enter the World Cup with fans expecting big things, and if the loss had come in a manner similar to that against Italy, England may have escaped too much criticism, but they were poor on the night, and only Wayne Rooney and Joe Hart could head back to the team hotel last night with any real pride.
One complaint England can have is that Diego Godin most probably should have been sent off in the first half. Having already been booked for handball, Godin was fortunate to not receive a second yellow after he blocked off Sturridge’s run, placing a hand on the Liverpool forward’s throat. Excuses though don’t cut it at this level, and England can only really blame themselves for the night’s result.
After so much drama, Japan versus Greece was always going to struggle to maintain those levels of entertainment, but what followed was nothing less than dire. Greece are famed for their negative approach and demonstrated against Colombia that they would approach this World Cup no differently. However, whereas the Colombians attacked with flair and aggression, Japan dominated the ball without really exerting much pressure, even after the Greeks went down to ten men. The best chances of the game fell to Yoshito Okubo, but in truth, clear cut goal scoring opportunities were few and far between. The introduction of Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa did add some much needed guile to the Japan midfield, but Manolas and Papastathopoulos were towering at the back, letting nothing past them, ensuring the match ended in a stalemate.
What’s the significance?
Colombia are through to the next round after impressive wins, Japan needed to beat both Greece last night, as well as Perkerman’s side, to join the Ivory Coast in qualifying from Group C, assuming the Elephants were to defeat Greece in their last game. However, now it is a straight tussle between the Blue Samurai’s and the Africans for 2nd place, the Ivory Coast holding the advantage having already defeated Japan.
In terms of England, they now need a huge favour from the Italians in order to qualify. If the Three Lions dispatch Costa Rica, and Italy beat both Los Ticos and Urugauy, thee defeat to Costa Rica would likely cost Oscar Tabarez’ and allow England to scrape through on goal difference. It is a slim hope though as both Costa Rica and Uruguay are very capable of getting something out of the Azzuri, and there is of course no guarantee that England will beat Los Ticos, who proved against the Uruguayans that they are no pushovers. Then again, stranger things have happened in football.
Despite involving errors, both of Suarez goals were beautifully taken, especially the first; Cavani’s ball into Suarez was absolutely sumptuous, one of the crosses of the tournament thus far. Gervinho’s mazy run in the lead up to the Ivory Coast’s only goal of the game, like Suarez’ involved defensive errors and really should have been saved once Ospina got a hand to it. Like Suarez’ goals however, it is still a joy to watch.
Uruguay had their strikers to thank for their win (that and England’s ineptitude), and whilst it will be Suarez’ name featuring in the headlines, so much credit must also go to Cavani. El Matador was a threat in of himself, but what really made his performance so impressive was his selflessness. Luis Suarez wasn’t fully fit, and couldn’t put in his usual all action display, so the responsibility fell to Cavani to do the leg work and free his compatriot to do what he does best and score. His two assists must go down as Cavani’s standout contributions, but his hard work, and constant harassment played a big part in why Steven Gerrard was so poor last night.