FIFA World Cup 2014: What we learned, Day 3
Maybe Costa Rica shouldn't be considered an after-run, and did Italy already win Group D?
At the end of each day of action at the 2014 World Cup, our writers weigh in on what we learned from each match.
No Falcao, no problem. Although he was in attendance for Saturday’s match for moral support, Colombian star striker Radamel Falcao isn't going to see the pitch due to injury. There were questions as to how that might affect Colombia’s attack, but against defensive-minded Greece, those doubts were abated. Midfielder James Rodriguez picked apart Greece’s typically hellish defense and even added a late goal for a bit more class. Wingers Victor Ibarbo and Teo Gutierrez each were active on the offensive front, penetrating deep into Greece’s zone on multiple occasions. Gutierrez’s 58th-minute goal was a wonderful example of a striker capitalizing on a golden opportunity. In short, the Colombians answered any lingering questions about how potent an offense they possess. They should battle the Ivory Coast for the class of the group.
Greece isn’t so boring after all. Yes, they were outclassed by a talented Colombian squad and eventually looked fatigued by the stoppage time goal, but they put up a fight. After a nervous few opening minutes that saw Colombia take a quick lead, Greece turned into the more aggressive team, which caught their opponent by surprise. The score doesn’t show it, but there were two headers in this game – one from Vasilis Torosidis and another from Theofanis Gekas – that should’ve been tallies. A third chance, this time from midfielder Panagiotis Kone late in the first half, only stayed out of the goal by way of a miraculous save from Colombia’s keeper. Yes, they pack it in on defense. Yes, they’re deliberate and build (painstakingly) slow from the back, but a bit better finishing and there’s a much different storyline to Saturday's match.
Colombia will go as far as its defense takes it. The offense, as mentioned, looked stellar. The midfield play looked fluid and swift. Even the keeper, David Ospina, came up huge when he was tested a few times. But the defense was sloppy with a few awful clearances and three questionable tackles in the box. No, none demanded a card, but Greece’s strikers aren’t nearly as imposing as those of the Ivory Coast. They’ll need to tighten up the back, show quality tackling and remain composed against better offenses, not necessarily in the group stages, but once (as expected), the Colombians advance. Also, the Colombian supporters, save for the home town fans, were by far the best of any country in the World Cup thus far.
Luis Suarez: Okay, at risk of harping too much on his absence, we'd be remiss if we weren't to mention his absence. Clearly Uruguay's plan was to steal three points without him against Costa Rica, which totally blew up in their collective faces. Now they're really behind the 8-ball, and we'll see Thursday just how injured Suarez is. But his absence Saturday may have already told the story. He may not be fit enough to play at all.
Costa Rica is no doormat: Widely considered the worst team in Group D, Costa Rica proved, at least, they aren't going to be walked over. In fact, they looked rather potent at times. Joel Campbell can make plays, and there's no reason to think they can't be just as problematic for Italy and England as they were for Uruguay.
Keylor Navas can do things: Another thing Costa Rica has going for them is the play of its keeper, Keylor Navas. He has been known to make amazing saves throughout his career, and he did so Saturday on a deflected Diego Forlan shot. Look:
It's nice to know that's behind you as a defense, and he can keep Costa Rica in games, as he proved Saturday.
Italy may have won Group D. This was a huge match following Uruguay's loss to Costa Rica, and the Italians coming away with three points puts them in the driver's seat in the group. Now, that being said, this wasn't exactly a dominant match for the Italians. England's pace gave its defense some problems, but Salvatore Sirigu was excellent filling in for the injured Gigi Buffon.
England is very dangerous. I know they lost, but this isn't your grandfather's England squad. Speed! Speed just about everywhere you looked! Considering how Uruguay looked on Saturday, I'd consider England a favorite against both them and Costa Rica in its final two matches at this point. So the English may get to the Round of 16 yet.
It's very hot in Manaus. Not exactly shocking news to find out that it's hot and humid in the middle of the Amazon, but the weather certainly took its toll on both of these teams as the game went on. The first half was fast-paced as both squads took turns moving up and down the field, but in the second half every player on the field looked to be running on empty. Italy was content to just park the bus for the final 25 minutes with its one-goal lead because it was certainly a better idea than running some more, meanwhile England had plenty of chances and blew most of them badly as it was obvious that fatigue was setting into their legs. This will be something to follow for every match in Manaus this month.
Are they going to advance? The Ivory Coast looks as if it will advance for the first time in its history. Yes, it still needs a decision against Greece, but in a battle of contrasting styles, I'd take the Ivory Coast's aerial assault over Greece's defensive man power. Les Elephants' two goals both came by way of headers inside the six. In the first half the Ivory Coast missed at least five of those opportunities, but in the second, within two minutes of Didier Drogba entering the game, they buried the ball past Eiji Kawashima. I'm not saying there was a correlation. I'm also not not saying that, either.
Japan is no pushover. Keisuke Honda is a phenomenal talent in the middle for the Japanese (as evident by his 15' goal on Saturday), but he's also a tremendous facilitator. Defenses game plan to stop the Milan star, but Shinji Okazaki and Shinji Kagawa are both extremely dangerous and can play off Honda as a decoy. Japan probably feels like this game got away. It led the entire first half, but instead of pressing the ball up after its first goal, it was content to let the Ivory Coast pepper its defense (The Ivory Coast had three times as many shots as the Japanese did). Had Japan remained aggressive, (or had Kawashima stopped the second near-post header), who knows what the final score is? They may have their way with a struggling Greek side.
Finishing needs work. The first half was an abysmal showing in terms of goal scoring for the Ivory Coast. They played corners, through balls, lobbed passes and chips, and the Ivory Coast strikers couldn't even put the ball on the frame. Better touches from Salomon Kalou and Yaya Toure and it could've been a four-goal night for the Ivory Coast.
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