Colombia swept aside Greece 3-0 on Saturday to celebrate their first World Cup appearance since 1998 in a free-flowing display that showed their abundance of attacking talent even without top striker Radamel Falcao.
In another high-tempo match, the South Americans attacked from the off and were rewarded when left back Pablo Armero scored a 5th minute deflected shot, rocking the Greeks whose game plan depends on defensive stability.
Striker Teofilo Gutierrez, whom Colombians expect to fill the hole left by the injured Falcao, extended the lead when he stabbed home a 58th minute corner before midfield James Rodriguez sealed the win with a third goal in stoppage time.
The Group C opener in Belo Horizonte’s Estadio Mineirao confirmed that pacy Colombia are a force to be reckoned with despite Falcao’s injury, which overshadowed their buildup.
“We’re really happy. It’s a good start,” said Colombia’s Argentine coach Jose Pekerman, whose last participation in a World Cup was when he led Argentina to Germany in 2006.
“We showed we’re here to have a good World Cup. But nothing’s won, it was the first game.”
The match was by no means one-sided though. Forced to attack after conceding, Greece had plenty of chances themselves.
Vassilis Torosidis headed just past the post, Panagiotis Kone saw a shot well saved and Giorgos Samaras struck just wide.
In their best opportunity, veteran striker Fanis Gekas hit the bar with a header on 63 minutes when it looked easier to score, effectively scuppering any chances of a comeback.
The result pumped up an already pulsating atmosphere among the majority Colombian crowd.
The yellow-clad fans were thrilled at seeing their team back at football’s top table after being shut out since their great sides of 1990s featuring flamboyant characters like goalkeeper Rene Higuita and blond-locked Carlos Valderrama.
The joy was in evidence after Colombia’s first goal, when the players danced together in front of their bench in probably the most colorful celebration so far of the Brazil World Cup.
Defeat continued Greece’s dismal record of never keeping a clean sheet at a World Cup finals. They have never gone beyond the group stage either, so will be hoping Group C rivals Ivory Coast and Japan - who meet later on Saturday - are easier foes.
Armero’s early goal came after sustained pressure down the right wing, with a lucky deflection squeezing past keeper Orestis Karnezis. Three Colombian players looked offside but were deemed not interfering in play.
Gutierrez, with a heavy weight of expectations on his shoulders given Falcao’s absence, scored an easy goal from close range after a corner had been flicked on.
Then Rodriguez, who had looked lively throughout, hit a low shot in stoppage time to send the Colombian fans delirious.
“It’s a dream come true. I really wanted a goal. We hope to be able to go far,” said Rodriguez, named man of the match.
Forward Kostas Mitroglou, lacking match fitness after a miserable time in the Premier League with now relegated Fulham, came off the bench in the second half but was unable to provide Greece’s missing spark.
“We had our chances but just could not score. We should have done better in the finishing,” said goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis.
“I don’t think we were worth a 3-0 defeat. But unfortunately that’s football. There are three games, we only lost one. It’s a big success to be here, but we have to win too.”
Additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann. Editing by Nigel Hunt.
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