World Cup 2014: Day 4
As I predicted Colombia proved way too strong for Greece in the opening game of Group C. It took just 5 minutes for the South American side to take the lead, when former West Ham full-back Armero cut the ball back, and Juan Cuadrado was on hand to slot home despite the best attempts of the Greek defence and Karnezis to keep the effort out. Colombia continued to press and created several more chances, while Greece forced a good save out of Ospina at the other end, but it was still 1-0 at the break. After half time the lead was doubled when Gutiérrez, in for the injured Radamel Falcao was on hand to stab home a corner. Rodriguez whipped the ball in, with Aguilar knocking it through before Gutiérrez had the easiest of tap-ins.
Greece wasted their best chance of the game when Theofanis Gekas could only hit the crossbar with his header from just yards out, with Ospina well beaten. The European side continued to push for a consolation goal, but were punished at the end when James Rodriguez was left free to fire home a third for a deserved Colombia win.
The World Cup threw up yet another shock (and blew my prediction out of the water) as Uruguay faced Costa Rica in Fortaleza. The game went as expected in the first half, Uruguay creating several chances and eventually going in front from the spot. Diego Lugano was bundled over in the box by Junior Díaz Campbell, and £50 million rated Edison Cavani stepped up to confidently fire home the resulting penalty. At the other end, Arsenal youngster Joel Campbell was a constant threat for Costa Rica, but Muslera was never truly tested.
After the break the Costa Ricans played with a new found belief, and were rewarded when Joel Campbell smashed home the equaliser. Just three minutes later, the travelling Costa Rica fans went wild as Costa Rica took the lead, the Uruguay defence again being exposed too easily and Oscar Duarte heading home, although there was a hint of offside. The goal stunned Uruguay, and Joel Campbell continued to cause problems. As they regained some attacking prowess, they were punished on the break when Marcos Urena fired home. The game then turned ugly and we saw the first red card of the competition, as Maxi Pereira kicked out at Campbell, without doubt the man of the match. It was definitely a red, and the Uruguayan will now miss the showdown against England as a result.
The temperature in Manaus did little to slow down the start from both sides as England took on Italy in the 11pm game. Both teams started at a good tempo, England with a great early chance hitting the side netting from Sterling (it looked in from some angles), and then Jordan Henderson forcing a save from stand-in Italian keeper Salvatore Sirigu moments later. At the other end, Italy tried to appeal for a penalty against Glen Johnson, to no avail. It was no surprise when Italy began to dominate possession, while England were favouring the quick breaks. The first real scare for England came when Antonio Candreva hit a long range shot which dipped and swerved, but Joe Hart was able to deal with it at the second attempt.
England must have thought they had scored when Welbeck stood up the ball in the area, but the ball span agonisingly away from Daniel Sturridge, whilst from the resulting corner both Sturridge and Rooney fail to take advantage of the flapping keeper. The deadlock was finally broken in the 35th minute, when a well worked corner was dummied by Andrea Piro, leaving Claudio Marchisio to drill the ball home from 25 yards out, through the bodies of both Cahill and Rooney, leaving an un-sighted Hart with no chance.
2 minutes later England drew level when a quick counter attack saw Rooney find space on the left, and he picked out Sturridge with a wonderful cross for the simplest of finishes on the half volley. The heat began to take it out of the players as the half drew to a close, the pace slowing dramatically, although Italy had a few chances to go in with a slender lead. First Mario Balotelli beat Hart to the ball, trying an audacious chip against his former teammate only to see Phil Jagielka head clear on the line. The resulting corner saw an effort from Antonio Candreva hit the base of the post, although Hart had the goal covered. One other incident of note in the first half was the injury to England Physio Gary Lewin, who was stretched off after celebrating the England equalizer.
The second half started off fairly even, but within 5 minutes Italy had regained the lead. Mario Balotelli was able to peel off and find himself completely unmarked in the box, and Candreva beat Leighton Baines before picking out the Milan forward for a free header to make it 2-1. England almost repeated the act of the first half as Daniel Sturridge again went on a mazy run, but he was eventually crowded out before getting his shot away.
England then appealed for a penalty as Gerrard broke through after a neat one-two with Sterling, but it quite rightly wasn’t given. Rooney then wasted a superb chance to draw England level, selling the keeper with his eyes but dragging his shot agonisingly wide. Baines then saw his free kick saved as England continued to search for an equaliser. There was more disappointment for England as they lost Sturridge to injury, Adam Lallana taking his place. Italy were quite happy to see the game out, while England were unable to break through. Italy almost killed it completely at the end when Pirlo hit a stunning free kick that hit the bar, with Joe Hart well beaten. Italy will be happy with the 3 points, and although England will be disappointed there are some positives they can take from the opening game, and but for several wasted chances they may well have taken more. Sadly the 2-1 scoreline meant my under 2.5 goals didn’t land.
The final game of the day saw Ivory Coast take on Japan in the other Group C game. The game definitely lived up to the quality of the games that came before it, with both sides keen to attack. Japan broke the deadlock in the 16th minute, with Milan midfielder Keisuke Honda receiving the ball and taking a touch before producing a wonderful finish. Yaya Touré went on several of his trademark runs, as Ivory Coast looked to find their way back into the game, but the Manchester City midfielder didn’t look fully fit. Swansea City striker Wilfred Bony was also guilty of wasting several chances. Sabri Lamouchi threw on former Chelsea star Didier Drogba, and the forward made an almost immediate impact creating several chances.
Ivory Coast looked most likely to score following his introduction, and it was no surprise when they did draw level. Serge Aurier produced a wonderful cross, and this time Bony did find the target with a well directed header. Just a few minutes later Aurier produced another telling cross, and this tune Gervinho was able to power home, although Japanese keeper Eiji Kawashima should have done better. Drogba almost helped himself to a goal at the death, but was unable to grab a goal, as the match finished 2-1, seeing my over 2.5 goals prediction land.
The first game on Sunday sees Switzerland take on Ecuador, for the first ever time, in Group E. Switzerland, although probably the weakest of the seeded teams in the competition, are coming into the tournament in fine form, with just 1 defeat in their last 18 international games, coming against South Korea last November. That included an unbeaten qualification campaign in which they won 7 and drew 3 games. Ecuador, meanwhile, qualified off the back of their impressive home form above sea level in Quito, where they picked up 22 of their 25 qualification points). Coming into the game they have won only once in the last 7 games (against Australia when they came from 3-0 down to win 4-3). I fancy Switzerland to get off to a good start here in Brasilia.
The second game of the day takes place in Porto Alegre, where France take on Honduras. France will be looking to make a good start against the weakest opposition in their group, as they look to try and reclaim the trophy they last won in 1998. They come into the game in fine form, including an 8-0 win against Jamaica in a World Cup warm-up game. They have lost only once in 11 games (against Ukraine in their World Cup play-off) and should claim all 3 points in this clash. Honduras have won only once in the last 7, a 2-1 victory against Venezuela back in March, and should offer little threat. I fancy France to win by a clear margin so am going for France -1 and Benzema anytime (if he starts).
The last game on Sunday sees my tips Argentina get their challenge underway against Bosnia and Herzegovina. The match could potentially see Zabaleta, Agüero and Demichelis all take on teammate Edin Džeko, so I’ll have an especially keen interest in this game. Argentina have lost only once in their last 15 games (3-2 against Uruguay in the qualifiers), their previous defeat coming against Brazil on penalties after winning the game 2-1 (3-3 on aggregate). Argentina have also won both previous encounters with Bosnia, 2-0 in a friendly last November, and 5-0 in a friendly back in 1998. Bosnia have won 10 of their last 14 games, so are also coming into the tournament in good form, including warm-up wins against fellow qualifiers Mexico and Ivory Coast. I think it should be a good game, but it’s hard to see past Argentina claiming the win.
Switzerland to beat Ecuador
France -1 handicap against Honduras
Karim Benzema anytime against Honduras
Argentina to beat Bosnia
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