Pablo Armero of Colombia (3rd R) celebrates with teammates after scoring his teams first goal during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group C match between Colombia and Greece at Estadio Mineirao on June 14, 2014 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Photo: Getty Images
Colombia marked their long-awaited return to FIFA World Cup action with an entertaining 3-0 win over Greece on Saturday, Goal.com reports.
Jose Pekerman's men, making a first appearance at the World Cup since 1998, produced a strong showing to enhance their hopes of qualifying for the last 16.
Star striker Radamel Falcao's omission from the squad through injury had dominated the build-up to the tournament for Colombia.
However, backed by a vast and vociferous travelling support at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Colombia showed they could perform without the Monaco forward.
Defender Pablo Armero opened the scoring early on, before Teofilo Gutierrez - the man tasked with leading the line in the absence of Falcao - doubled his side's advantage just before the hour mark.
James Rodriguez added a third in injury time seal the victory for Colombia in Group C's opening game.
Colombia's next match comes against Ivory Coast on Thursday, while Greece will bid to bounce back on the same day versus Japan.
The South American outfit made the most of a fast start to proceedings, moving ahead after just five minutes in somewhat fortuitous circumstances.
Armero latched on to a low right-wing cross from Juan Cuadrado, and his seemingly tame effort deflected off Greece defender Kostas Manolas, deceiving goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis and nestling in the bottom-left corner.
Greece could have levelled immediately if not for the disappointing finishing of Panagiotis Kone, who fired wide from the edge of the area.
Colombia, with their pacy and exciting forward line, continued to offer more of a threat, although Greece spurned another chance to level in the 28th minute as Vasilis Torosidis headed off target from a free-kick.
Fernando Santos' Greece began to dictate matters towards the end of the first half and were unfortunate not to equalise when Kone forced a fine save from David Ospina with a curling 20-yard effort.
However, Pekerman was evidently able to re-energise his side during the half-time interval and Colombia pushed for a second goal after the break.
They were rewarded for their industry in the 58th minute, Gutierrez turning the ball into an unguarded net after Abel Aguilar had flicked Rodriguez's near-post corner into his path.
Fortune favoured Colombia throughout and Greece's bad luck was encapsulated after 63 minutes, striker Theofanis Gekas rattling the crossbar when he met Torisidis' knock back from a deep far-post cross with a powerful diving header.
Gekas was immediately replaced by Kostas Mitroglou, but the change had little effect.
And Colombia duly put the gloss on a fine win in injury time as the influential Rodriguez sent a cool finish beyond a despairing Karnezis.
Man of the Match: James Rodriguez (COL)
As it happened
FULL-TIME! Colombia get their tournament off to a great start. Goals from Armero, Gutierrez and James gave Colombia the deserved triumph, but Greece will be mightily disappointed. Santos' men created their fair share of chances and should have taken some of them, with Colombia ultimately cruising to victory. With Ivory Coast and Japan to come, Greece have opportunities to get back into contention, but they have already given themselves an uphill struggle.
90` + 3` Assist Juan Cuadrado
90` + 3` Goal James Rodríguez
GOAL!!! JAMES GETS A DESERVED GOAL! Cuadrado charged forward down the right, before Zuniga poked the ball just into the edge of the area. The Fiorentina man steps over it, allowing James to take possession, and he coolly slots past Karnezis.
89` James has really impressed today and he is at the fore once again as he sneaks into the Greece penalty area. The midfielder jinks back and forth, but Manolas forces him out wide.
87` Lovely feet by Cuadrado as the winger produced some clever touches to skip past two challenges, but when a chance to shoot opens up, he simply passes back.
85` Good try by Samaras as the forward produces a fine first touch and a clever turn, before curling an effort just wide. A decent try, but they need to be taking their chances. About five minutes to go.
83` The Greeks are starting to look tired, but they are still pushing for a lifeline and Torosidis has penalty claims rejected, as the defending went down easily inside the area.
81` From a Colombia perspective, this encounter is starting to peter out. Every time they take up possession, Pekerman's men attempt to string together as many pointless passes as possible.
79` James has been very lively for Colombia, unsurprisingly. This time he picks up possession in a deep area, bursts forwards towards the Greek half and is then felled.
78` Substitution: Panagiotis Kone out, Georgios Karagounis in
77` Good play by recent entry Arias. The PSV Eindhoven man charges forward with virtually no one attempting to stop him and he eventually hits a low shot into Karnezis' hands.
76` Substitution: Teófilo Gutiérrez out, Jackson Martínez in
76` And here comes another Colombia change, as Jackson Martinez take the place of Gutierrez in attack.
74`Substitution: Pablo Armero out, S. Arias in
74` Pekerman makes another change for Colombia and Arias replaces Armero, who has impressed on the left flank.
72`Mitroglou is at the centre of proceedings again, but to less impressive effect as he tries to pick out Holebas on the left, but the pass is pretty terrible and it rolls straight out of play.
70` There is Mitroglou's first involvement as he picks up possession on the edge of the Colombia area, before turning and unleashing a powerful strike towards goal. His effort deflects wide, but replays suggest it struck Yepes on the hand.
69` Substitution: AguilarA. Mejía
68` Greece are keeping Colombia restrained in their own area at the moment, but the South Americans are looking dangerous on the counterattack, particularly James and Ibarbo.
66` Mitroglou will be hopeful that the service to him is better than what Gekas experienced. Aside from his header a few moments ago, Gekas had very little to work with.
64` Substitution: Theofanis Gekas out, Konstantinos Mitroglou in
63` HUGE CHANCE FOR GREECE! Kone fires an excellent cross towards the far post and Torosidis knocks it back into the danger zone, but Gekas smashes a diving header on to the crossbar. What a let-off for Colombia!
62`The Greeks aren't happy with the referee as Fetfatzidis runs at Yepes down the left, zipping past him before tumbling to the ground. Replays suggest there was little contact, however.
60` Greece go relatively close to an instant replay as Torosidis again fires an inviting cross into the danger area, but Ospina collects it just before Samaras can get a touch on it.
58` Assist A. Aguilar
58` Goal Teófilo Gutiérrez
GOAL!!! COLOMBIA DOUBLE THEIR LEAD! James' free-kick is flicked on by Aguilar at the near post and Teo Gutierrez sticks a foot out to put the ball into an empty net.
57` Substitution: Dimitris Salpingidis out, Loannis Fetfatzidis in
57` That yellow card was Salpingidis' final action of the match as he is replaced by Fetfatzidis after a disappointing display.
55` Yellow Card Dimitris Salpingidis
52` Yellow Card Sokratis Papastathopoulos
52` Nasty challenge by Sokratis. The 26-year-old slides in on Ibarbo about 30 yards from goal, catching the forward with significant force and the Greek man goes into the referee' book.
51` Excellent delivery by Torosidis! The experienced defender curls a teasing and inviting cross in behind the Colombia defence and Ospina, but Gekas, Salpingidis and Samaras were unable to direct it towards goal.
50` There is Colombia's first effort of the half! James charges forward through the middle, holding off a challenge before firing from range, but Karnezis parries it away.
49` Lively start to the second half for Greece. They get forward again, this time down the right. Salpingidis finds space on the edge of the area and shoots, but a deflection takes the sting out of the attempt and Ospina collects.
47`NO PENALTY GIVEN! The second half's first event sees Samaras jink into the left side of the Colombia area, evading a couple of challenges before going to ground under the apparent challenge of Zapata. The referee correctly ignores the protests.
46`We are back underway in Belo Horizonte for the second half.
HALF-TIME! The referee keeps stoppage time brief and ultimately ends the first half as Colombia take a 1-0 lead into the break. Jose Pekerman's men probably deserve to be ahead and have put together some clever moves, but Greece grew in confidence as the half progressed. Kone's late effort was probably their best attempt, but Greece have not challenged Ospina enough.
45` THEY HAVE NOW! Samaras causes trouble on the edge of the Colombia area and although he is tackled by Yepes, Kone latches on to the loose ball, sending a fierce effort towards the top-right corner of the goal, but Ospina palms it away acrobatically.
43` Greece are running out of time to find an equaliser before the break, but to be totally honest, they have not really troubled Ospina yet.
41` Well-worked move by Colombia as Ibarbo, James and Gutierrez link up on the edge of the Greek area. However, the latter tries to play a cute pass into the danger zone, but a Greece defender crucially blocks.
40` Kone is becoming more of an attacking influence and he troubles Colombia again. This time he darts in from the left, skipping past two challenges before poking a pass into the danger area, but Zapata hacks away.
39` Greece win themselves a corner this time. Zuniga is forced back towards his own area and manages to halt Kone's passage in towards the box, but he can only knock the ball behind.
Greece's midfielder Kostas Katsouranis (L) in action during a Group C football match between Colombia and Greece at the Mineirao Arena in Belo Horizonte during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 14, 2014. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
37` GREAT CHANCES FOR JAMES! Ibarbo's high, deep cross from the left flank is too high for everyone in the centre of the box and James arrives late at the back post to meet it with a volley, but he blazes over.
36` The taking of the corner is delayed briefly due to Torosidis and Gutierrez clashing in the area, but once it is finally delivered, Yepes clears the ball with a glancing header.
35` Armero neglects a lofted ball over the defence and he is almost made to pay as Maniatis collects and finds space to cross. The Colombia left-back gets back to block the cross, however. Corner for Greece.
33` Brilliant play by Yepes as the centre-back charges forward from the back, leading a counterattack by himself. The experienced defender eventually lays the ball off to James and after the break peters out, Cuadrado smashes a long-range attempt wide of the target.
32` One player who has been quietly good so far for Greece is Samaras. Again, the Celtic man shows lovely control to cruise into the left side of the area, but Ospina is equal to his near-post effort.
30` Colombia are momentarily down to ten men as Gutierrez seeks medical attention on the touchline. The forward appeared to take a stray arm in the face when chasing Manolas.
28` ALMOST AN EQUALISER! Holebas' delivery is excellent on this occasion and Torosidis meets it with a powerful header, only for his effort to sail just wide of the left-hand post.
27` Greece get another free-kick in a dangerous area just in from the left after Samaras is felled by Zuniga. Again Holebas stands over the kick, but he'll be hoping for an improvement on his previous attempts.
26` Yellow Card C. Sánchez
26` Feisty few moments there. Ibarbo gets involved in a bit of a scuffle on the floor with a couple of Greeks, and then Sanchez cynically takes down Samaras as a counterattack brewed.
25` Almost an encouraging move for the Greeks as Sokratis is invited forward and picks out a good pass into Gekas, whose first touch nearly takes him away from Zapata, but the defender wins the duel.
23` Greece's final ball has been exceptionally poor so far. Again Salpingidis tries to chase a long ball from the back, but the pass gives him little chance as he sails out of play for a goal kick.
21` While Colombia look dangerous going forward, Gutierrez has been fairly quiet so far. The River Plate star was their second top-scorer in qualifying with five goals, four behind Falcao.
19` Colombia are enjoying themselves out there, but on this occasion Ibarbo tries to be too cute. The winger charges into space on the left, produces some fancy footwork and then gets tackled by Maniatis.
17` Pekerman's men are constantly looking for one-twos and they are threatening. Ibarbo plays a give-and-go with Gutierrez and bursts into the area, but Manolas covers well, making an expertly-timed sliding tackle to dispossess the Cagliari man.
15` Colombia are back on the attack down the left, winning a couple of throw-ins before Armero gets clear down the flank. The full-back crosses deep towards Cuadrado, who is nudged over by Holebas, but the referee allows play to continue.
14` And there you have it; another Greek move ends with nothing. Salpingidis looks to collect a long ball, but he ultimately caught Yepes with a high foot and Colombia get a free-kick.
13` Greece are currently enjoying their first meaningful spell of possession, but they are mostly passing the ball around in defence. This won't be worrying Colombia a great deal.
11` Disappointingly for the Greeks, Holebas fires the free-kick right into the wall. The Europeans keep their counterparts around their own area briefly, but the attack quickly fizzes out as Zuniga gets fouled on the right.
10` Greece win themselves a free-kick in a great position as Ibarbo catches the rampaging Torosidis with a classic "striker's challenge". Holebas and Kone stand over it.
9` Fantastic, lively start to proceedings here. James gets a warm welcome by Kone, who clatters into the Monaco man in the centre. The referee keeps his cards in his pocket, though.
7` Almost an instant reply for Greece! Samaras attacks down the left and pulls a good pass back for Kone, but the midfielder's effort on the stretch goes agonisingly wide of the right-hand post.
Goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis of Greece fails to save a shot by Pablo Armero of Colombia for his teams first goal during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group C match between Colombia and Greece at Estadio Mineirao on June 14, 2014 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Photo: Getty Images
5` Assist Juan Cuadrado
5` Goal Pablo Armero
GOAL!!! Colombia take the lead in Belo Horizonte! The tricky Cuadrado does brilliantly to turn the left-back inside out before cutting a pass back into the area. James steps over it and Armero sees his effort go in off a defender.
4` Lovely move by Colombia! Zuniga plays a one-two with Cuadrado on the right before charging in towards the centre. He slips a pass into the area for Gutierrez, but Manolas covers well and forces him out wide. The attack soon peters out.
3` What was that? Maniatis charged forward down the right and attempted a lofted pass in towards Gekas, but his over-hit ball sails all the way through to Ospina, who catches easily.
2` Almost a very encouraging move by the Colombians as Ibarbo flicks a clever pass on to James, before continuing his run into the area. He almost collcts the ball again, but Sokratis covers well.
1` Greece get us underway, kicking from right-to-left
Greece's preparation, meanwhile, has been relatively straightforward and coach Fernando Santos was given a huge boost by the return to fitness of Sokratis. However, Mitroglu - a key component in qualifying - has only been given a place on the bench after his January move to Fulham turned into a veritable disaster, starting just one Premier League match
With Falcao out, Victor Ibarbo has been given the nod. The Cagliari winger will be deployed on the left flank, Gutierrez heads up the attacks and Cuadrado takes his usual spot on the right. Rodriguez will offer attacking support and craft just behind Gutierrez, who was Falcao's usual partner in the qualifiers.
Colombia have had numerous injury troubles in the build-up to this competition, many of which have been well-documented. Radamel Falcao is of course the most notable, but Luis Muriel, Luis Perea and Aldo Ramirez have all had to miss out as well. Nevertheless, their squad still possesses some exceptional talent and with the likes of Quintero, Bacca, Martinez and Ramos on the bench, coach Jose Pekerman has options if he needs to change.
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