By Mike Woitalla
Colombia continued its brilliant run with a 4-1 win over Japan to finish first in Group C while Greece became the tournament's biggest underdog -- along with Costa Rica – to reach the second round, thanks to a 2-1 win over Ivory Coast. Here's what we think about the latest knockout round qualifiers.
James-led Cafeteros are delight to watch. Colombia, last seen at a World Cup 16 years ago, had never won more than a single game at its four previous appearances. The Cafeteros’ 4-1 win over Japan marked their third straight win in Brazil, with a combined score of 9-2.
Leading the Colombians is the 22-year-old playmaker James Rodriguez, one this tournament’s most exciting and productive players and early contender for the Golden Ball.
In Colombia’s opener, a 3-0 win over Greece, James dummied the ball to Pablo Armerofor the first goal, set up Teo Gutierrez for the second and scored the third himself. In the 2-0 victory over the Ivory Coast, he scored and set up 21-year-old Juan Quintero’s goal. Colombia entered Tuesday’s game already having clinched a second-round spot, so Coach Jose Pekerman rested most of his starters, including James. But the 1-1 halftime scoreline pulled James off the bench and he took over again, with dazzling dribbling moves and defense-splitting passes.
While in prime shooting position in the 55th minute, James instead served up Jackson Martinez. In the 82nd minute, James’ through ball set up Martinez’s second goal and James finished off the scoring my juking a defender and chipping the keeper at close range with his left foot as we so often see Lionel Messi doing it. (Martinez, after playing only 17 minutes in the first two games, demonstrated how deep the Cafeteros’ attacking talent is.)
Colombia’s teams of the 1990s, lead by Carlos Valderrama, often entertained in such fashion but came up short at World Cups. Pekerman’s team looks able capable of reaching the quarterfinals for the first time in history. In the round of 16, it faces Uruguay, which should be without Luis Suarez after FIFA reviews the biting incident.
Greece can score just enough. Its most glorious achievement came when Greece won the 2004 European Championship by scoring only seven goals in six games -- three 1-0 wins taking it from the quarterfinals to the final.
Its World Cup history consisted of first-round exits in 1994 and 2010 before starting this tournament off -- as Europe’s least fancied team -- by playing two games without hitting the net: the 3-0 loss to Colombia and scoreless tie with Japan.
Greece faced the Ivory Coast needing a win to advance. That meant finally scoring a goal -- a feat it accomplished in the 42nd minute when Andreas Samaris capitalized on a defensive mistake. The Elephants energized in the second half and seemed to doom the Greeks with Wilfried Bony's 74th-minute equalizer.
Greece’s hopes looked dim until two minutes into stoppage time when Giovanni Sio clumsily tripped up Georgios Samaras, who converted the penalty kick himself to send Greece to the second round for the first time in history. Awaiting is Costa Rica, the surprise winner of a group that included former World Cup champions Uruguay, Italy and England.
At least one of the biggest pre-tournament underdogs will reach the quarterfinals.