World Cup 2014: Matchday Eight (Group C, D)

Columbia 2 – 1 Cote d’Ivoire

A more open and entertaining game than I was expecting, given that both teams won their opening encounter and could have subsisted with a point.

Columbia at the very least were not interested in sitting back and accepting a draw. The first half was pedestrian enough stuff in many ways: both teams had their spells of possession and their chances. Men like Bony for Cote d’Ivoire and Gutierrez for Columbia were being marked out of the game, and this lack of attacking freedom where it really mattered badly affected the possibilities for goals.

Still, it was interesting if not entirely enthralling, Columbia starting the better before Cote d’Ivoire slowly asserted themselves and came back into the game, very much in the same pattern as the opener against Japan. This time they had no goals to chase though, and performed admirably for it. Bony should have been a few away before the half, but was successfully denied on both occasions.

The second continued this level of play for 20 minutes, Columbia just about edging it in terms of quality. Bony’s day finally ended, replaced by the slightly more capable Drogba, with Cote d’Ivoire having the majority of possession but in frequent danger of being caught on the break. That was before the game exploded into life.

Rodriguez outjumped them all to plant his powerful header into the net on 64 minutes, a worthy return for the better play of the South American side. Flustered and vulnerable, Cote d’Ivoire had barely enough time to send Kalou on and try to settle before they were two down, a defensive error pounced on by Guiterrez, supplying Quintero for the low finish.

That should have been the end of it, but Cote d’Ivoire have so far proven themselves to be the best of the African sides at the World Cup, and have done so with purpose. Gervinho had to do a lot of the work himself to get the space to fire in his effort, but he gave the Africans hope they could claw it back.

Columbia settled faster than their opponents had, packed the penalty area and saw the game out. They deserved it, overall, but the Ivoirians should not feel too badly for their effort. They remain strong contenders to qualify, and have things nearly entirely in their hands. Columbia should have the skill to get something against the Japanese on the basis of what I’ve seen, even if it’s just the point that they need.

England 1 – 2 Uruguay

More of the same from England, and a transformation from Uruguay.

Are they a one man team? Maybe. Having Suarez upfront completely changes the threat that Uruguay pose, and having scored so many goals against the same batch of defenders in the EPL this season, he was always going to be nailed on to score a few here.

The game was even enough for the majority. England favoured the right as they had against Italy, trying to utilise the pace of Sterling and the support of Johnson, only now with both Sturridge and Rooney to aim at in the centre. Uruguay had improved their defensive work markedly since the disaster against Costa Rica, and mostly kept those two strikers contained, with Welbeck left a little stranded out on the right. In the crucial midfield battle, the Gerrard/Henderson combination was found wanting again, as Cavani and Suarez were able to receive the ball in that section of the pitch and break again and again.

The English back line is their real weak link. Jagielka was caught ball watching for the first, allowing Suarez to drift around and steer home a great header. Cavani’s cross deserves praise too. It was a deserved lead, with Uruguay causing the jumpy Joe Hart a few problems already, albeit none that should have troubled him too unduly.

England looked average at the very best of times. Rooney was fluffing his lines again, his early effort in the second a truly shocking miss. At the other end the English defence had practically stopped trying to mark Suarez, but was also failing to pick up on a host of his fellow attackers, and both Suarez and Cavini could have added another three before England got back into the contest properly.

But they actually did. Reasserting themselves in midfield for a brief time and working down the right again, Glen Johnson of all people was able to beat a few players and get the ball across the face of goal, for Wayne Rooney to tap home. It was a simple goal for the United striker, having missed two sitters earlier, but did England care?

Drawing level created complacency. This time it was Cahill with the mistake, allowing a simple nod-on from a goal kick to get past him, before Suarez simply belted the ball past Hart. His fitness might still be in question (he didn’t run much tonight) but his strike rate is not.

England had nothing after that, devolving back into a team that simply liked to lump it forward with hope. With Gerrard, Sturridge, Welbeck, Rooney, Henderson and most of the backline playing like League One players for most of the night, the final score was inevitable from the moment the ball left Suarez’ boot for the second goal.

England are going nowhere in this competition. I expect them to struggle against the Costa Ricans, and they might be out before that game is even played. Too ordinary, too shallow. Uruguay are completely reliant on their star man. With him, they have a good shot at getting to the last 16. Without, they are sunk.

Japan 0 – 0 Greece

Both teams really needed a win to keep their homes alive and both started smartly, pushing forward to the attack. Honda was involved intimately from the centre for Japan, Kone steaming forward to try from distance for Greece.

Both sides strengths and weaknesses became obvious quickly. Greece did a good job at shutting down the Japanese attack, Osako’s 19th minute effort being their first to really cause Greece any worries, another curling effort flying wide a minute later. Greece absorbed and tried to counter, but didn’t have the talent upfront to trouble the Japanese to a great degree, Holebas’ run and shot/pass around 20 minutes typical of their ineffective attacking style.

The Greeks were playing  a hard game, trying to assert some dominance over the Japanese, but the ref was having none of it. A handful of yellows handed out in the first eventually resulted in Katsouranis’ dismissal, a quite correct decision. Greece actually came close to opening the scoring a minute or two later, Kawashima making a fine save from a powerful Torosidis shot. The half wound down in a slightly acrimonious fashion, and things remained even enough at the break.

Samaras’ audacious effort right at the start of the half aside, the pattern of the second was set quickly. The Greeks put every man behind the ball, and the Japanese went about trying to find some kind of way through. Occasionally the former Euro champions would sally forward, notably during a four corner streak around the hour when Gekas came reasonably close.

With so many defenders in front of them, Japan did struggle to create anything really great. Kagawa, dropped from the starting line-up after his dismal showing in the first game, was brought on to try and rectify that, and his beautiful floated through ball found Ucido free in the area, and his cross-goal ball failed to be slammed home by the on-running Okuba. Ucido came close again a few minutes later from close range, but nothing was happening.

Japan went back to a strategy of working it to the flanks and crossing it in, ideas that the Greeks were all too happy to deal with, easily heading clear again and again. A few half decent chances were created, but with the likes of Honda having such a disappointing tournament, Japan looked very unlikely to ever break down the Greek wall.

Both teams with an uphill struggle going into the last day. I can’t see Japan getting anything bar maybe a point against Columbia. Greece probably have a better shot against Cote d’Ivoire, but it will be tough.

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