Okay so the England boys didn’t perform, but let’s be honest no one really expected them too, so instead of beating ourselves up about the ifs, buts and maybes let’s focus on the rest of the competition.
Now we can return to watching the football and enjoying the class on show, we are going to start with a look at Colombia; they didn’t look as scintillating as they did in their first round match against Greece but still came out of their match against Cote D’Ivoire with a 100% record. Much had been made of James Rodriguez in the season just gone, but to many football fans he may have been an unknown prospect; with AS Monaco not playing in Europe this season evidence of his supreme talent was hard to come by. He has certainly made football fans across the world stand up and take notice in this tournament already with his two goals in as many appearances. It is not just his goals that make him such a tricky customer, though, as his superb vision and passing ability is perfectly suited to Colombia’s rapid counter attack. ‘Monaco’s other Colombian’ is certainly rising to the occasion and showing the national side does not just rely on Radamel Falcao for firepower. Saying that, Falcao could have scored the chance missed by Teofilo Gutierrez even if he is on crutches; after fantastic play by Rodriguez, Gutierrez was left with enough time to pop back to Colombia to buy a new pair of boots to score but still managed to direct his volley woefully wide. Cote D’Ivoire were not offering much themselves and often looked disorganised, ex-Hibernian and Leicester defender Sol Bamba didn’t exactly inspire confidence playing at the back, with a few shaky moments. For all the sublime passing play by Colombia it was a set piece that eventually broke the deadlock as Rodriguez rose to meet a corner to send the South Americans one up just after the break. Colombia doubled the advantage quicker than you can say ‘if in doubt kick it out’, something Serey Die should take notice of, as he dilly dallied on the ball and eventually lost possession, leading to a 2 on 1 with Gutierrez slipping in Juan Quintero who steered the ball past a hopeless Boubacar Barry. Now the Colombians could relax with a two goal lead…. well, not quite, because three minutes later Gervinho cut in from the left hand side, with all limbs looking uncontrollable, fooling all-comers and firing the ball home to leave the Ivorian’s dreaming of a comeback, and leaving all Arsenal fans perplexed. Time eventually ran out for the African side and Colombia saw out the victory and sealed their place in the knockout rounds, a potential all South American affair with Uruguay could be on the cards (Sorry to rub it in England fans).
The Colombians are the chalk to the Greeks (Feta?) cheese, as there is nothing flamboyant about the way they play; with neither side wanting to lose when Greece met Japan it was always likely to be a cagey affair. In their eighth World Cup match the Greeks were looking to score just their third goal, with the other two coming in the same game in 2010. The Japanese were looking to find an opening but the Greeks, as Greek national teams tend to do, sat back and soaked up the pressure and tried to pick them off on the break. The sending off of captain Konstantinos Katsouranis after 38 minutes made an already defensive team play even deeper and therefore nullifying all that Japan had to throw at them. After watching England play this wasn’t exactly a game to raise spirits, giving Iran vs Nigeria competition for worst game of the tournament so far.
Now don’t we all love Italy, our best friends, would be really nice of them to beat Costa Rica for us wouldn’t it? Maybe even give Uruguay a beating next week? That’s what friends are for right? With England bias aside, the Italians should have what it takes to see of the Central Americans this evening. Gianluigi Buffon is expected to return in goal after missing last week’s clash, with the Italian stalwart set to make his 141st cap for his country. The enigmatic Mario Balotelli is expected to keep his place up front; the reported Arsenal target has asked for a kiss on the cheek from the Queen if Italy win tonight. If they win tonight and see off Uruguay he can have the keys to Buckingham Palace as well. Costa Rica will be looking forward to trying to cause another upset in group D, if Joel Campbell can produce another superb performance and Bryan Ruiz produces the form Fulham fans have seen over the years the overshadowed group members could be the ones going through to the knockout stage for the first time since 1990. Coach Jorge Pinto is confident of an upset but Andrea Pirlo and his wand of a right foot will have other ideas.
Group E also resumes tonight with Switzerland facing France in Salvador; both teams won their opening matches and will both be confident going into tonight’s affair. France were kicked off the pitch by Honduras last time out but still fought for a 3-0 victory, with Karim Benzema impressing with a brace. The Swiss on the other hand left it very late against Ecuador as they came from behind to win in the dying seconds of the game. One player who really stood out for France was Antoine Griezmann, the tricky youngster was a constant menace for the Hondurans and could prove to be the same tonight. Xherdan Shaqiri failed to live up to his billing last time out with many over hit crosses and being wasteful in possession, against the French these mistakes are more likely to be punished so the Swiss, ranked sixth in the world at the moment, will have to play like a team that deserves that position to pull off the win against a very strong looking French team.
The final game of the day sees the two teams that lost their opening fixture in group E, Ecuador and Honduras. The Hondurans will be missing Wilson Palacios after the Stoke midfielder saw red for two bookable offences against the French. With both the Ecuadorians and Hondurans known for their grit and often rugged approach this one could be set for fireworks; with so much on the line tension is bound to be high. Ecuador should have enough to see off their Central American opponents although if Honduras manages to keep eleven men on the field their defence can be very resolute. England fans will have seen the firepower Ecuador can possess which can change a game in an instant. Depending on the French result, the loser of this one could be set for elimination.
If you are still feeling the pain from England’s premature exit today’s games should more than make up for it, an Italian victory wouldn’t go amiss either.