Watching four games of football back-to-back in one day is no mean feat, especially when scheduled around other commitments and deadlines, so forgive me if today’s diary is late and more abrupt than usual.
It says something about the standard of this year’s World Cup when a 3-0 win can be considered among the least entertaining matches of these three days of play. Colombia flattened Greece, showing they are not reliant on the presence of Monaco striker Radamel Falcao and putting them in with a good chance of qualifying from Group C.
Bravely, Colombia’s coach José Pékerman decided against fielding a like-for-like Falcao replacement in attack, instead going with a more mobile front two of Victor Ibarbo and Teo Gutiérrez. This is the potential benefit of Falcao’s injury: Pékerman’s sides struggled to find a good balance between defence and attack when playing the big No 9, as for him to show his incredible talents he needs plenty of support. Without Falcao, Colombia can reinforce their midfield and gain more control over games, as we saw against Greece. Pékerman would be unable to have the strength of Aguilar and Sánchez, the industry of Ibarbo and Cuadrado, the creativity of James Rodríguez and the intelligence of Gutiérrez if he was forced to play with a static (although incredibly dangerous) centre-forward.
Colombia’s opening goal was a wonderful moment. With the Mineirão stadium decked out in yellow and blue, wing-back Pablo Armero led the rest of the squad into one of his famous dancing celebrations after his scuffed shot crept past Karnezis in the Greek goal. What has been evident throughout the World Cup qualifiers is that this Colombia team are such a tight-knit group, full of joy and excitement. The team is quite varied in terms of ages, but this is the first World Cup for everyone involved (except 42-year-old substitute goalkeeper Mondragon, who played in 1998, Colombia’s last tournament appearance) and they are all enjoying this wondrous moment together.
England v Italy was perhaps my favourite match of the tournament so far (well, it would be, wouldn’t it?): two former world champions facing off in the heart of the Amazon. England were surprisingly entertaining to watch, vibrant and daring going forward. They still have some way to go however, I cannot help but think they lack creativity, the team would be improved hugely with the inclusion of an attacking midfielder with vision and technique.
Their big problem last night, however, was defending their left side. Baines does not seem to offer much in the way of defending, while Rooney gave him no cover from midfield. No wonder Italy focused so heavily on attacking that side with Candreva and Darmian.
Pirlo had a predictably excellent match, with his “assist” for Marchisio’s goal sure to go down in history. However, Raheem Sterling’s slanted, defence-splitting pass to Rooney in the buildup to England’s goal was just as impressive and bears repeating.
In the evening game, Japan took the lead against Ivory Coast but never looked in control. Zaccheroni’s side constantly invited pressure from the Ivorians, who attacked in numbers, with their full-backs overlapping constantly. The African side deservedly turned the game around, albeit in shocking circumstances, with two goals from crosses in the space of two minutes.
On to Sunday, France were impressive in their win over a poor Honduras side who spent over half the match with ten men. Despite taking longer than expected to break the deadlock, France did not panic, stuck to their gameplan and Wilson Palacios’ idiotic foul on Paul Pogba in the penalty area gave them the break they needed.
I’m about to sit down to watch Lionel Messi play at the Maracanã, and I cannot tell you how delighted that makes me feel.