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

Italy 0 – 1 Uruguay

A bad tempered and tense encounter between two of the bigger names in international football, that casts a rather dour pale over much of the tournament.

It was a game of bad tackles, diving, whinging and violent conduct. Things like Marchisio‘s (deserved) red card and Suarez’ latest example of violent behaviour overshadow nearly everything else, save the result. It was a tight affair for much of the 90, with neither team seemingly willing to go all out and risk it all, even though Uruguay needed to win from the outset.

Pirlo’s free kick and Immobile’s wayward shot were the main chances of the first half, and in the case of the former was among his only really important moments in the game. It’s shame after that mesmerising performance against England, but Pirlo has not played to his utmost in the two subsequent encounters and his absence as the midfield talisman was vital to the way that Uruguay were able to boss the affair for most of the second half. Balotelli had devolved into his all too common childishness, and offered nothing but petulance and a danger he would get himself sent off.

Not that it really mattered. It took until well into the second 45 for Uruguay to show they could be a bit of a threat, Cavani more interested in flinging himself to the ground looking for penalties than actually trying to score goals. Suarez’ toe poked effort, saved very well by Buffon, was their first real opportunity, but the compact and disciplined Italians had soon formed ranks and closed what gaps seemingly existed.

Maybe the Italian defence was a little unnerved and out of sorts after the biting incident, allowing Godin to head home from far too much space, despite bad contact on the ball. Not that the Italians were engendering too much sympathy from me, having spent much of the game wrestling with Uruguayan forwards during set-pieces.

Italy finally started driving forward, but their lack of energy at that point was plain to see, only the uncharacteristic impotence of Cavani and Suarez on breakaways keeping things as close as they were – maybe the Liverpool man had other things on his mind, like his upcoming ban from international football.

Italy couldn’t make the breakthrough despite hurling everything they had forward, and Uruguay walked away with the win and progression. But without that forward talisman to get them through, I think they’ll be sunk sooner rather than later. And it won’t be a bad thing either.

Costa Rica 0 – 0 England

A dead rubber game I had no interest in watching – and, judging by the reports, plenty of players had no interest in performing in. Sturridge went closest, cementing his status as one of England’s better performers. Costa Rica contained the meagre opposition and can look forward to a clash with Greece, as handy as you can get in the World Cup.

Japan 1 – 4 Columbia

I was hoping for an improved Japanese performance to justify my faith in them. I got that to an extent, but the whole thing came crashing down long before the end.

Kagawa was in from the start for Japan, and the already progressed Columbians had made eight changes since the last game. That made for an unpredictable contest and despite making most of the early running, Japan were behind from a deserved spot kick for a Yasuyuki foul on Ramos, drilled home with confidence by Cuadrado.

From there Japan were continually chasing the game. Kagawa and Honda were playing better than they had previously in the tournament, but consistently failing to find the target, save for Kagawa’s close range effort turned aside by Ispina . Columbia looked stretched at the back, unable to halt Japan’s central or flanking moves, but always looked dangerous when on the break, their forwards easily outpacing some exhausted Japanese defenders, Martinez guilty of a howler in the final minutes of the opening 45.

Japan’s pressing tactics got their reward in the dying seconds of the half, Honda’s right wing crosses steered home with skill by the head of Okazaki. That was the signal for Japan to throw everything they had at it, playing a high line from defence to attack, but Columbia’s defence had settled into the game and looked more confident at deflecting or blocking the attacking efforts of Honda and Kagawa. Columbia settled for attacking on the break, and sub Rodriguez soon had Martinez clear in the Japanese box to restore the South Americans lead.

Japan didn’t wilt and pressed on, but could only spin shots wide, save for Honda’s swerving free kick. Despite holding on to the majority of possession, nothing seemed to be going right for them and a repetition of the link-up for Columbia’s second goal made their third, Martinez finishing from the right side of goal this time.

All that was left was for Rodriguez to get on the score sheet himself, with a fine finish at the end of a flowing Columbia move. The scoreline was a poor reflection on Japan in this game, but they had the chance to improve their position markedly against Greece and failed to take it, so their failure to progress is no injustice. Columbia can look ahead with confidence to a game with Uruguay, that they have every chance of winning.

Greece 2 – 1 Cote d’Ivoire

Well, look at that, the Greeks finally turned up. Despite a first half injury crisis, Greece controlled most of the game,  taking advantage of Tiote’s error for Samaris’ opening goal. Cote d’Ivoire had to attack and the Greeks, in their typical style, let them and it took a fine move, orchestrated by Gervinho cutting through the Greek defence, finished by Bony clinically, to put them back on level terms and back on the road to progression.

Samaras’ penalty in the dying moments seems to have been reported as controversial, but it wasn’t. Sio stepped into his path and clipped his leg. Regardless of any subsequent exaggeration, it was a foul. Samaras stepped up, put it away and the Greeks, again, are beating the odds. And they may yet get to a World Cup quarter final.

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