By DAN KARELL
Colombia announced their return to the World Cup in style.
Los Cafeteros, playing without their heart-and-soul, forward Radamel Falcao, took advantage of a couple of defensive errors to defeat Greece, 3-0, at the Estádio Mineirão in Belo Horizonte. Pablo Armero, Teo Gutierrez, and James Rodriguez scored the goals, but 38-year-old captain Mario Yepes had a huge impact in Colombia’s first World Cup match in 16 years.
The Colombians got off to a perfect start in the 5th minute as Colombia broke forward, with Juan Cuadrado galloping forward down the right wing. Cuadrado beat his defender and played a ball into the center of the box. After a dummy from the playmaking Rodriguez, Armero fired a shot on goal that was deflected by Greek defender Kostas Manolas enough to wrong-foot the goalkeeper and roll across the line.
Nearly 20 minutes into the match though, the Greeks wrested control from Colombia and began to dominate possession and control a slow, methodical tempo. However, much like Spain on Friday, Greece weren’t able to turn their possession into many legitimate chances on goal, with Yepes, centerback Cristian Zapata, and holding midfielders Carlos Sanchez and Abel Aguilar shutting down the middle of the field.
Heading into the second half, more of the same continued, with Greece winning the possession battle but not converting their chances. The Colombians made the Greek’s pay for their lack of opportunities off a corner kick in the 58th minute.
Rodriguez whipped in an in-swinging ball that took a touch at the near post which put the ball out of reach of Greek goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis. Gutierrez stuck out his left foot in front of goal and was able to re-direct it home to the delight of the partisan Colombian crowd.
The Greeks had their best chance of the match to equalize in the 64th minute when right back Vasilis Torosidis set up forward Theofanis Gekas right at the top of the six. But lady luck was not on Greece’s side on Saturday as Gekas sent a header right off the crossbar and away. Gekas was substituted from the match one minute later.
Later on in the match, Colombia, either buoyed by better fitness levels or the passion exuding from the sell-out crowd, continued to defend stoutly and play smart, putting balls into the corners on counter attacks and trying to relieve pressure.
In a late counter attack in stoppage time, Rodriguez added the dagger off a nifty back-heel flick from Cuadrado, putting Colombia up 3-0 before the final whistle blew.