Dominant Rodriguez leads Colombia past Japan, top of Group C

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It was supposed to be a day of rest for James Rodríguez, but after Colombia struggled for 45 minutes against Japan, the 22-year-old was called on to preserve his team’s spot atop Group C. Over the next 45 minutes, a dominant performance that produced one goal and two assists blew open a 1-1 game, sealing Colombia’s perfect group stage with a 4-1 win over Japan.

The Colombians broke through early in the first half with a penalty converted by Juan Cuadrado, but after 45 minutes of control by Japan, the Samurai Blue crafted a stoppage time equalizer, with a Shinji Okazaki header sending the teams into halftime tied 1-1.

After being brought on at halftime, Rodríguez set up Jackson Martínez in the 55th minute for the go-ahead goal, with the Monaco star’s through ball into the right of the area in the 82nd minute allowing his teammate to double Colombia’s lead in the 82nd. Seven minutes later, Rodríguez finished from close range to close the scoring, sending the Cafeteros through with a lopsided score.

With the win, Colombia becomes the second team this tournament to complete a perfect group stage. That honor earns them a Saturday meeting with Uruguay in Rio de Janeiro. Japan, after making the final 16 four years ago, leaves Brazil 2014 with one point in three games, finishing last in their group.

[ RESULTS: Greece shocks Ivory Coast | Costa Rica clinches Group D | Uruguay eliminates Italy ]
[ RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly ]

Initial pressure toward the underdogs’ goal gave way to Japan control, something that generated 63 percent possession and 14-3 edge in shots by halftime. Colombia, however, was able to get on the scoresheet first thanks to a Yasuyuki Konno foul in Japan’s penalty area, allowing Cuadrado to put the group leaders in front in the 17th minute.

That edge looked set to last into intermission before Keisuke Honda, in the first minute of injury time, cut in from Japan’s right to chip a ball toward the penalty area. Curling around a defender, Okazaki headed the ball inside David Opina’s left upright, rewarding the Samurai Blue with a  1-1 scoreline at halftime.

Coming out of intermission, Colombia head coach José Pekerman, who made eight changes to his starting XI for the day’s game, brought on Rodriguez and Carlos Carbonero in an attempt to gain a handle on the game. Rodríguez’s inclusion quickly paid off. Having already taken over the game in the half’s first 10 minutes, the Colombian attacker drew three defenders to him at the top of area in the 55th minute. Flicking to his left for Martínez, the Monaco star set up his team’s go-ahead score, with his teammate finishing into the right of goal to make it 2-1.

While Japan pushed for a response, Colombia maintained their newfound threat going forward. In addition to controlling more possession, the Cafeteros had new life on the counter attack. In the 82nd minute, that threat came good when Rodríguez set up Martínez for Colombia’s insurance – a left-footed finish from the right of goal to make it 3-1.

In the 89th minute, a dominant half from Rodríguez ended with the young star’s name on the scoresheet. After sending Japanese defender Maya Yoshida spinning to ground just outside the six-yard box, Rodríguez chipped Eiji Kawashima for the game’s final goal, capping the tournaments best individual performance.

With the win, Colombia becomes the second team to finish their 2014 group stage with a 3-0-0 record. On Saturday, the Cafeteros will put that mark on the line when they face South American champions Uruguay in the tournament’s second round.

Lineups

Japan: Kawashima; Uchida, Yoshida, Konno, Nagatomo; Hasebe, Aoyama (Yaamguchi 62′); Okubo, Honda, Kagawa (Kiyotake 85′); Okazaki (Kakatani 69′)

Goals: Okazaki 45+1′

Colombia: Ospina (Mondragón 85′); Arias, Valdes, Balanta, Armero; Cuadrado (Carbonero 46′), Guarin, Mejia, Quintero (Rodríguez 46′); Ramos, Martínez

Goals: Cuadrado 17′, Martínez 55′, 82′, Rodríguez 89′

Samaras’s stoppage time conversion sends Greece into nation’s first World Cup knockout round

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For Greece, it was history the hard way, but thanks to a stoppage time penalty converted by Georgios Samaras, the former European champions are into their first World Cup knockout round. Beating Boubacar Barry into the right of goal in the 93rd minute, the veteran attacker gave the Greeks a 2-1 win over the Ivory Coast, clinching second place in Group C and a spot in the 2014 World Cup’s second round.

Andreas Samaris’s 42nd minute goal allowed Greece to open the scoring after a turnover deep in the Ivorian half saw the Africans pay for a lackluster opening period. Though a more intense Ivory Coast side initially struggled in the second, Wilfried Bony’s 72nd minute equalizer appeared to put the Ivorians into the knockout round.

With a late penalty called on Giovanni Sio, however, Greece was given their chance to make history. With a confident strike past the diving Barry, Samaras booked the nation’s first spot in the final 16, securing the 2-1 win they needed to take second place.

The result sets up Greece for a Sunday meeting against Group D-winning Costa Rica. For the Ivory Coast, the 2014 World Cup ends with three points and a third place finish, marking the third time in as many finals the Western African nation leaves the World Cup after the opening round.

[ RESULTS: Rodriguez carries Colombia | Costa Rica clinches Group D | Uruguay eliminates Italy ]
[ RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly ]

An initial 25 minutes with little action was defined my Greek misfortune, with injuries to midfielder Patagionis Kone and goalkeeper Orestis Karnezi forcing head coach Fernando Santos to use his first two substitutions. Despite those changes, the Ivorians were unable to make any progress breaking through the Greek defense, with the first chance of the match coming for José Holebas, who put a 19-yard shot off Barry’s crossbar.

Just before intermission, another transition opportunity allowed the underdogs to take a 1-0 lead. Fed into the right of the Ivory Coast’s penalty area, Samaris, who came on after Kone’s injury, allowed Barry to commit low before chipping the keeper from just inside the box. Taking advantage of a Chieck Tioté turnover, Greece quickly produced the game’s opening goal.

At halftime, the Ivorians found the intensity they lacked over the first 45 minutes, but by the hour mark, les Elephants had only generated one shot on target. Bringing Bony for Tioté just past the hour mark, the Ivorians stepped up their pursuit of an equalizer, but with Greece’s counter forcing desperation fouls from Salomon Kalou (62′) and Serey Die (69′), the favorites looked more likely to concede consolation.

In the 74th minute, the inclusion of Bony came good. After a ball played into the left of Greece’s area found Gervinho behind the defense, a pass cut back for the Swansea striker ended up in the back of Patagionis Glykos’s net, the one-timed shot beating the substitute keeper inside the left post to put the Ivornians back on track for the knockout round.

In the third minute of stoppage time, however, les Elephants were knocked off course. After Sio was whistled for taking down Samaras in the penalty area, the veteran forward converted from the spot, beating Barry to put Greece into its first knockout round.

With that one whistle, Ivorian dreams had turned to tragedy, denying the Africans their own piece of World Cup history. With only their second win at a World Cup, the former European Champions have added another big tournament disappointment to the nations’ soccer history.

In the process, Fernando Santos’s team claimed second in Group C, securing an unlikely spot in the tournament’s final 16.

Lineups

Greece: Karnezi (Glykos 24′); Torosidis, Manolas, Papastathopolous, Holebas; Maniatis, Christodoulopoulos, Karagounis (Gekas 78′), Kone (Samaris 12′), Salpingidis; Samaras

Goals: Samaris 42′, Samaras 93′

Ivory Coast: Barry; Aurier, K. Touré, Bamba, Boka; Tioté (Bony 61′), Die, Y. Touré; Kalou, Drogba (Diomande 78′), Gervinho (Sio 83′)

Goals: Bony 74′

At halftime: Colombia even with Japan, Ivory Coast falls behind Greece — FOLLOW LIVE

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Colombia is one step closer to securing first place in Group C, while a goal just before halftime Fortaleza has Greece on the verge of its first World Cup knockout round. Thanks to substitute Andreas Samaris, the former European champions take a 1-0 lead into intermission against the Ivory Coast, while an early penalty conversion by the group leaders was pulled back by Japan, leaving it 1-1 in Cuiabá.

There’s your halftime update on Group C’s final matches:

[ MORE Soccerly: Follow Japan-Colombia | Greece-Ivory Coast ]

Japan 0-1 Colombia

Goals:

17′ – On a ball sent into Japan’s right channel, Yasuyuki Konno takes out Adrián Ramos just inside the penalty box. After the official points to the spot, Juan Cuadrado blasts the opener into the middle of goal, giving the group leaders a 1-0 lead.

45+1′ – After a half spent in control of the ball, Japan finally breaks through. Seconds before the whistle, Shinji Okazaki heads a cross inside David Opina’s left post, revitalizing his team’s chances of reaching the knockout round.

Other moments:

10′ – This is as lively as Japan’s been all tournament, with the running of Yoshita Okubo testing José Pekerman’s changed back line. Off a long ball played over the back line, that defense is left chasing as Okubo weaves around the penalty area. The striker’s shot is scuffed wide, but Japan’s direct play’s making early process after initial pressure from Colombia.

26′ – Japan’s continues to dominate the ball, but Ospina’s been relatively untested. In the middle of the half, that changes when a right-footed shot by Shinji Kagawa from just beyond the arc forces a dive to the lower-left corner. Pushing the try out for a corner, Ospina responds to the Samurai Blue’s second shot on target, but Japan are out-shooting the favorites 8-1.

42′ – Colombia’s best open play chance sees Ramos break into the right of the area alone, though his pass back to the middle of the box is shanked wide by Jason Martínez.

Question for the second half:

  • Will Pekerman rue his changes? – Probably not, given first place is likely theirs, but a Colombia team that made eight changes to its starting XI is leaving its defense to do all the work. Will the Cafeteros take more control in the second half, or will Pekerman’s bench given Japan a path to the second round?

Greece 1-0 Ivory Coast

Goals: 

42′ – Greece’s second chance brings the upset into view. Off an errant pass from Chieck Tioté, Greece creates a turnover in the Ivorian half, one that eventually sends Samaris in on Barry. Coming out to close down the angles, the Ivorian keeper goes to ground too soon, allowing the Greek substitute to chip into the empty net for the opening goal.

Other moments:

12′ – Panagiotis Kone’s day is done. Aftergoing to down in the 10th minute, the Greece midfielder gingerly walks to the sidelines, where Andreas Samaris is ready to come on. Fernando Santos’s first substitution is an unexpected one.

20′ – Could another Greek player go down? Limping around the penalty area, goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis gets all the time he needs to shake off his knock. Four minutes later, Panagiotis Glykos is on. As the Ivory Coast slowly start to figure out the Greek defense, Santos is forced to use his second sub.

33′ – Off an Ivorian corner, Greece breaks on the counter, eventually generating a chance for José Holebas at the edge of the area. His blast goes off Barry’s crossbar, denying the game’s first good chance. Just past the half-hour mark, the teams have combined for three goals, only one of which has gone on target.

 

Question(s) for the second half:

  • Can the Ivorians break them down? – Moments before Greece’s goal, Salomon Kalou was able to get some space to create in the left of the penalty area. It was one of the few times in the half the Ivorians actually threatened. Though they controlled play, les Elephants weren’t able to threaten either of Greece’s keepers. Does 45 minutes give them enough time to restore their second round hopes?

Game(s) on: Colombia looks to clinch first, Ivory Coast aims to advance out of Group C

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Of the six teams already qualified for the knockout round, only one has gone through with a perfect record. Today in Cuiabá, Colombia looks to join them, though the Cafeteros need only a draw against third place Japan to secure first place in Group C at the 2014 World Cup.

That placing will ensure the attack-heavy South Americans will avoid the top qualifier from Group D. Because of the depth of that group, though, first place will provide little consolation. The South American champions, Uruguay, will face Colombia, should José Pékerman get a result this afternoon.

Even if Colombia’s upset by the Samurai Blue, it will take a lopsided result in one of the day’s games to push the Ivory Coast into first. For Les Elephants, however, the goals are more modest. Making their third appearance at the World Cup, the Ivorians are looking for their first place in the knockout round. Beat Greece in Fortaleza, and Sabri Lamouchi’s side is through.

But that’s not the only way the Ivorians can get through. Thanks to edges in goal difference and goals scored, the first tiebreakers are currently in the Elephants‘ favor, which means with one point against Greece, the Ivorians are through unless Japan puts up a high-scoring or lopsided win. If Greece upsets Lamouchi’s team, the former European champions will go through with a Colombia result.

[ MORE Soccerly: Follow Japan-Colombia | Greece-Ivory Coast ]

Tired of the scenarios? Yeah, they get a little think at this point of the tournament. Thankfully, the soccer starts soon. Here are the lineups:

Japan: Kawashima; Uchida, Yoshida, Konno, Nagatomo; Hasebe, Aoyama; Okubo, Honda, Kagawa; Okazaki

Colombia: Ospina; Arias, Valdes, Balanta, Armero; Cuadrado, Guarin, Mejia, Quintero; Ramos, Martínez

Expectation: Colombia are big favorites, with Japan failing to impress over their first 180 minutes in Brazil.

One blogger’s prediction: Japan may give the Cafeteros some early trouble, but they’re just outgunned. Even if Alberto Zaccheroni can spring an early surprise, the depth at Pékerman’s disposal should get the team to nine points. 3-1, Colombia.


 

Greece: Karnezi; Torosidis, Manolas, Papastathopolous, Holebas; Maniatis, Christodoulopoulos, Karagounis, Kone, Salpingidis; Samaras

Ivory Coast: Barry; Aurier, K. Touré, Bamba, Boka; Tioté, Serey Die, Y. Touré; Kalou, Drogba, Gervinho

Expectation: While there is a healthy respect for the trouble Greece can give an opponent, few are picking them to trip up the Ivorians.

One blogger’s prediction: The Ivorians haven’t scored a goal in the first 60 minutes of either of their games. Should they start slow again, they’ll find it difficult to switch gears against a Greece them comfortably hanging out in their bunker. While a 0-0 is tempting, I’m still taking the Ivorians, 1-0.

Man advantage no help as Japan held to 0-0 draw by Greece

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Fifty-two minutes with a man advantage wasn’t enough. Despite seeing Greece midfielder Kostas Katsouranis sent off in the 38th minute, Japan was unable to break through the Greek defense on Thursday at Arenas das Dunas, relegating Group C’s bottom two teams to a 0-0 draw in Natal.

Japan had two clear chances in the second half but were unable to steer a pair of close range opportunities on goal. Come the final whistle, Greece goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis has only been called on to save four shots, two of which came from long-range free kicks. In the opposite goal, Eiji Kawawshima also made four spots, helping Japan register its first point of the tournament.

With the Asian champions scheduled to face group favorites Colombia on Tuesday in Cuiabá, Japan has a number of reasons to rue tonight’s missed opportunity. Greece, on the other hand, can hope an upset over the Ivory Coast on the same day in Fortaleza will help secure an unlikely place in the knockout round.

[ RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly ]

Japan dominated possession in the first half, but to very little effect. Despite holding the ball 75 percent of the time, the Samurai Blue only registered one shot on target, a total that matched their far more defensive opponents. Come intermission, neither team had shown an ability to consistently create opportunities.

Japan’s possession did contribute to another potentially decisive outcome. In the 38th minute, booked for a challenge in midfield, Katsouranis was sent off, earning his second yellow card 11 minutes after his first caution. The 34-year-old midfielder also forced head coach Fernando Santos to burn his second substitution of the half, the first going after starting striker Kostas Mitroglou had to be removed in the 35th minute.

Out of half time, Japan’s control temporally waned, with Greece nearly scoring in the 60th minute off a corner kick. Eight minutes later, the Samurai Blue had their best chance of the match when Atusto Uchida played a ball through the six-yard box for Yoshito Okubo. Although the attacker put his far post chance into the stands, Uchida nearly replicated the feat three minutes later when he put a ball wide of the opposite post. Japan had regained control of the game, but they were still unable to test Karnezis.

At the other end of the field, Greece made one last play to steal full points, with an 81st minute corner giving Georgios Samaras a chance to head his side in front. After the Celtic forward was unable to steer his shot on goal, Greece was left holding out for their first point of the competition.

With it, the former European champions preserved a route to the final 16. Defeat Ivory Coast on Tuesday, and Greece needs only a Colombia result against underdog Japan to make its first knockout round. Japan, on the other hand, must beat Colombia to have any chance at moving on.

Lineups

Japan: Kawashima, Uchida, Konno, Yoshida, Nagatomo, Yamaguchi, Hasebe (Endo 46′), Honda, Okubo, Okazaki, Osako (Kagawa 57′)

Goals: None.

Greece: Karnezis, Holebas, Sokratis, Manolas, Torosidis, Katsouranis, Maniatis, Kone (Salpingidis 81′), Samaras, Mitroglou (Gekas 35′), Fetfatzidis (Karagounis 42′)

Goals: None.