Colombia proved there’s plenty of life after Radamel Falcao with a 3-0 victory over Greece on Saturday in Belo Horizonte to get their World Cup campaign off to a dream start.
With their talismanic striker, whose serious knee injury forced him to miss the World Cup, watching from the stands, Colombia provided an immediate demonstration that they retain plenty of attacking talent. Pablo Armero scored in just the fifth minute before leading his teammates in a wild celebratory dance, and appeared to have set Colombia on their way to an emphatic win.
It wasn’t quite that straightforward. The early onslaught from the side who finished second in South American qualifying soon dissipated, and Greece fought back. But a traditionally goal-shy Greece side couldn’t take advantage of their greater possession. And just before the hour mark, striker Teofilo Gutierrez finished from close range to double the lead. Theofanis Gekas’s header against the bar with the goal at his mercy just moments later, summed up Greece’s day and effectively consigned them to defeat. All that was left was for James Rodriguez, the young Monaco creator who was the star of the show, to add a delightful third in injury time.
In one of the most open groups, also featuring Japan and Ivory Coast, the victory provides a much-desired boost for an inexperienced team playing in its country’s first World Cup since 1998. While not at their best throughout, they showed in patches the kind of devastating attacking play that could certainly trouble any team in the tournament. Greece, meanwhile, now prepare to take on Japan knowing they will need all their knowhow to get a positive result.
In front of a crowd that formed a raucous wall of yellow, Jose Pekerman’s team had the kind of support that gave it the feel of a home match. Within five minutes the thousands in attendance from Colombia were on their feet and in even fuller voice than the already spectacular atmosphere they were generating.
It was a goal that encapsulated Colombia’s attacking intent. From Rodriguez’s wonderful ball over the top of the Greek defense, Juan Cuadrado pulled it back, Rodriguez stepped over it and Armero came steaming in from full-back to scuff a shot that was helped to squirm past Greek goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis by a deflection off Kostas Manolas.
It appeared that could be a catalyst for an early onslaught. The pace of Cuadrado and Victor Ibarbo down the flanks and ingenuity of Rodriguez in behind striker Gutierrez was causing Greece more problems than they could handle.
But, as Colombia took a step back, Greece clawed their way back into the contest. Pangiotis Kone was the man impressing most for Fernando Santos’ men and might have provided his team with an immediate response to going behind, but instead shot wide on the stretch. At the end of the half the midfielder called David Ospina into action for the first time, with a fine curling effort that required the Colombian goalkeeper to fling himself airborne to parry it away.
In between, Colombia had provided a reminder of their threat when both Rodriguez and Cuadrado got underneath ambitious volleys. The superb Rodriguez, moved into a No.10 role in the absence of Falcao, stung the palms of Karnezis after the restart and soon helped create a vital second goal. Greece’s continued problems defending set-pieces were again exposed when Rodriguez’s corner got a crucial flick on by Abel Aguilar to deceive defenders and goalkeepers alike and leave Gutierrez as the quickest to react to turn in from close range.
The final outcome might have been different had Gekas immediately found the net with his free header from six yards rather than the bar and pressure been applied to Colombia. Instead Pekerman curtailed his team’s attacking intent, with the full-backs now sitting back more. Still, they had the quality in attack to add another. In injury time, Colombia took a quick free-kick and Cuadrado steamed forward before flicking a pass onto the arriving Rodriguez who placed a fine shot past the despairing dive of Karnezis.