Uruguay edge tight game to knock out Italy
In an intriguing Group D encounter, Uruguay and Italy met in the battle for progression into the knockout rounds.
Costa Rica, who had beaten both teams, had already qualified from the group, so Italy and Uruguay played each other knowing that one would go through at the expense of the other. A tie would be good enough for Italy.
And that’s how the game was playing out – both teams seemed reluctant to risk too much, and Italy in particular were content to take their time.
This was a game that grew cagier with each passing minute. There was hardly any flow to the match, with both teams fouling the other frequently and making the most of any challenge they received.
Something needed to give – the teams were locked in a 0-0 statement, but the aggression was threatening to get out of hand.
The match heated up when Claudio Marchisio was sent off for a studs-up challenge in the 59th minute. With a man down, Italy grew even more willing to play for the scoreless draw.
However,the boiling point of the game was still to come – with just over 10 minutes to go, Uruguayan superstar Luis Suarez put a stain on the beautiful game (for the third time in his career) when he appeared to bite Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder.
A decision on the evidence is yet to be made by FIFA, but it doesn’t look good for Suarez, especially considering his past infractions.
But his madness was temporarily forgotten, when just a few moments later, Uruguay found the breakthrough – captain Diego Godin rose to head (or shoulder) in a corner to give his country a crucial lead.
It proved to be the decisive moment – despite five minutes of stoppage time, the Uruguayans held on for the tight 1-0 victory.
The Uruguayans have now delivered the knockout punch to both England and Italy – they’re set up for a likely South American showdown against Colombia.
England slump out of World Cup with goalless draw
In Group D’s other match-up, England and Costa Rica met in a game that meant little to both teams.
Costa Rica sealed their progression with a 1-0 victory over Italy last week, while England had already packed their bags – after two consecutive losses, the English had only pride left to play for.
Manager Roy Hodgson used the opportunity to give some of England’s fringe players a chance to see some World Cup action before boarding their plane back home.
England were on top for much of the half, but they couldn’t break through Costa Rica. Daniel Sturridge had a couple of chances to open the scoring, but the English were held to a 0-0 score line at the half.
The second half developed a similar trend, with neither team testing the opposition goalkeeper.
Costa Rica were content to take a draw and maintain top spot in Group D, and the English seemed already down and out.
The game ended in an uneventful 0-0 draw, and Roy Hodgson’s England team slumped out of the World Cup with a single point.
For Costa Rica, they’ve done the unthinkable – the underdogs in this year’s Group of Death have triumphed against all odds, coming out on top to book their spot in the next round.
Colombia maintain 100 per cent record
In their final Group C match, World Cup dark horse Colombia took on Japan – for Colombia, the game was meaningless, but Japan needed a win to have any chance of moving on.
The Colombians have been one of the tournament’s most impressive sides so far, and even fielding a lineup with nine changes, they quickly got into their rhythm.
Fiorentina’s Juan Cuadrado, who created three goals in Colombia’s first two group matches, gave his country the lead when he converted a 17th-minute penalty.
It looked like it would be the only goal of the opening 45, but Shinji Okazaki diverted in a diving header with literally the last touch of the half to bring Japan level and give them a slim hope of qualifying.
But any hope they had was snuffed out when Colombia’s prodigal son James Rodriguez, who was rested for the first half, came on at half time.
Rodriguez, who had already scored a goal apiece in his first two games, made an immediate and devastating impact for Colombia.
First, Rodriguez met the run of fellow substitute Jackson Martinez, and the big man converted to give Colombia a 2-1 lead with just a little over 30 minutes remaining.
With only eight minutes to go, Martinez scored his second goal of the game. Again, it was assisted by the brilliant Rodriguez.
And he wasn’t done just yet – in the final minute of play, Rodriguez jinked through two Japanese defenders before cleverly scooping the ball over the onrushing Kawashima to score his third of the tournament and seal a 4-1 victory.
Colombia finish with a perfect record in Group C, and have set themselves up with a clash against Uruguay in the next round.
Rodriguez has been the key man for Colombia, putting in three man of the match performances so far. His output has been phenomenal, and the young playmaker is one of the stars of the tournament. If he continues like this, Colombia can go all the way.
Greece – the kings of the upset
The fourth and final game of the day brought two very different teams. Greece and Ivory Coast, while both very physical sides, use their physicality in much different ways.
For the Ivorians, their pace and power is used for high-intensity attacks, driving at opposition defenders and letting their big men up top create trouble for defenders.
The Greeks, however, are known for their physical and resolute defending. But with them needing a win to pip Ivory Coast to a knockout round spot, something needed to give.
And it was the Greeks who drew first blood in this match – Andreas Samaris capitalized on a defensive mistake from the Ivorian back line to give his country the lead with just minutes to go until half time.
After the half, the Ivorians restored parity and moved back to second place in Group C when winger Gervinho dribbled into the Greek penalty area and laid the ball across for Wilfried Bony to tap home.
But, as in so many other World Cup matches so far, there was to be some late drama.
With only injury time to be played, iconic Greek striker Georgios Samaras seemed to trip over himself in the box – a fall which the referee, astonishingly, deemed to be a penalty.
It was Samaras himself who stepped up to take the 93rd-minute spot kick, and the towering striker converted to put his country (the underdogs of Group C) through to the knockout rounds.
That late drama sets up an incredible round-of-16 meeting between Greece and Costa Rica, two sides who were predicted to finish rock bottom of their respective groups.
While some people will be upset to see “weaker” teams facing each other in the knockout rounds, it only amplifies what has been an unpredictable, dramatic and brilliant World Cup. Long may it last.