After the Croatian defeat to start, and after a day where the “other” tournament favorite crumbled, day three had us wondering if more upsets would follow or if the favorites would climb back on top. Once again, the third day provided us with plenty of goals and a third successive match day without any draws…only continuing to show how massively different this World Cup has been from 2010’s showing. So, let us take a long look at how our Saturday was dominated by looking at match day three…
Colombia vs Greece
Does anyone remember that Greece were European Champions in 2004? After this performance, so it seems, neither does Greece. While the main focus of headlines would have been the absence of Falcao for Columbia, the Columbians made sure that they could still find the back of the net without ‘El Tigre.’ A match where the Greek players will feel hard done by nearly every instance of “almost,” Columbia will feel fairly confident about progression after snagging three points and watching the Japan/Ivory Coast game (which we will discuss later).
Colombia certainly started the brighter of the two teams, but nearly every goal that was scored by the Colombians would be followed shortly after by a very presentable chance to the Greeks. The only difference on this day was that Colombia took full advantage, while Greece always seemed inches away. If both of these teams hope to have better luck going forward, Greece will need to be able to finish their chances and Colombia will need to continue to keep their scoring touch.
Uruguay vs Costa Rica
While the Netherlands ensured that it would be difficult to snag the biggest headline for the first week of play, Costa Rica certainly attempted to steal the show. In a game where it was difficult to ever imagine that Uruguay was ever a dominant team, Costa Rica snagged their biggest World Cup victory of all time (and will be dreaming of advancing from such an impressive group). While Uruguay seemed to take advantage of most of their midfielders being defensive minded in the first half with their dominance in possession, it took a boneheaded foul on Lugano for Uruguay to find the back of the net. In fact, outside of Cavani’s penalty finish, the PSG striker looked extremely poor…while Diego Forlan only served to remind us why he no longer plies his trade with the biggest teams in Europe.
If any team attempts to underestimate the speed that Costa Rica (specifically Arsenal prospect Campbell), then Costa Rica will certainly make a team pay. However, while it would be easy to heap all the praise on the second half comeback from the Costa Ricans, this game always felt like the bulk of the blame should fall on the listlessness of the Uruguayans. There seemed to be no purpose to their play (even in the late stages), no imagination on the pitch, and a team that seems unable to function without star-man Luis Suarez. Considering that Suarez did not feature, even in such dire conditions for Uruguay, should tell everyone that El Pistolero may have attempted to return too quickly after surgery. If Uruguay continue to be this poor, then it will be impossible to continue considering this group as one of the more difficult on display.
England vs Italy
For these two European giants, everyone knows that the points accrued from this match could end up resulting in a struggle to even qualify from the group. While the quality of the pitch had received most of the pre-match headlines, both teams made sure that the talk during and after the match had nothing to do with the pitch. And, it only took Pirlo two minutes to look like he would continue his passing brilliance and typical game control…and only moments later for young Sterling (who looked very confident) to take one of many worthwhile efforts from long range that we would see in this game (some of the first we have seen in Brazil (up to this point)). Then, the game settled into Italy pressing and controlling with England waiting for glimpses in between Italian sieges. Welbeck looked surprisingly bright in the first portion of the game, yet another bright sign for United fans slowly emerging from their hiding places.
Of course, a beautiful dummy by Pirlo would result in a fantastic shot the was buried by Marchisio in the 35th minute and made it look like Italy might start to run away. However, Rooney had a flash of brilliance on the other end (how come he only has “flashes” now?…what has happened?) and a classy Sturridge finish gave belief back to the Three Lions. Italy finished the half on the front foot, and it only took five minutes of the second for them to score the game-winning goal. Despite some great England attacks, it was a Mario Balotelli header that would separate the sides. While Rooney would have a fantastic chance around the 60th minute (and Sturridge looked likely to break down Italy’s defense), a flurry of mediocre performances from England subs and some good defending from Italy will mean that Italy will be looking to finish top of the group and England will be fighting to survive.
Ivory Coast vs Japan
In a group that seems a bit less likely to provide an eventual Cup-winner, this game would definitely decide the favorite for the group. A game where we were treated to a mass of Mizuno boots on the pitch, incessant talk of Drogba starting on the bench, and the attacking football that this World Cup has definitely provided (does any squad have a truly solid defense?), the last match of the day still provided plenty of drama. In the first half, both sides fashioned a number of chances, but the only finish came from Honda from a classy finish from open play (I know! Right!?), making every AC Milan fan wonder where that has been for the past few months. It was surprising that Japan led, as the Ivory Coast had most of the possession and seemed to be the stronger of both teams.
However, the second half (and a particular introduction of a fellow named “Drogba”) was more Ivory Coast dominance, but it happened to include an end product. While Drogba did contribute a lot and his presence definitely made more space for the rest of his team, the mirth of articles proclaiming Drogba as the savior of the match obviously missed both goals. Brilliant passes from right-back Aurier proved the difference here as the Ivory Coast buried two great chances in the second half. Largely untroubled by Japan in the second half, Ivory Coast will now cast their attention to finishing atop this group. While, because of the lack of strength shown by the other teams in the group, Japan will still believe they can advance (for the sake of the purple Ignitus III, we hope so…cannot get enough of those).
Of course, Balotelli. Was it ever a true question which player would rise from Italy to snag a winner in stoppage time. We are sure that Puma are not upset about their star man snagging such an important goal, and we are still enjoying the look of the Tricks boots on the pitch. Definitely wonder how much pain Luis Suarez is in for him to not even feature in the latest stages of the Uruguay game. Without him, Uruguay seemed destined to watch most of this tournament from the comfort of their homes. As for the other “smaller” teams, most will relish the opportunity to ruin other teams progressing and the others will now have a belief that they can be the “Cinderella team” for this Cup.