Colombia returned to the FIFA World Cup 2014 with a bang, bagging an easy 3-0 victory over Greece in Group C's opening game.
Pablo Armero scuffed an effort over the line early on to give the Cafeteros an early lead, and after a little Greek pressure in the second half, Teofilo Gutierrez added to the scoreline from a set piece.
James Rodriguez sealed it after a lovely team move.
Formations and XIs
Victor Ibarbo was the surprise selection for Colombia, playing on the left flank opposite Juan Cuadrado and forcing Teofilo into a No. 9 role. James Rodriguez tucked in as a No. 10.
Greece played a very deep, defensive 4-3-3 setup with Theofanis Gekas starting up front ahead of Kostas Mitroglou and Panagiotis Kone moving forward as the most offensive midfielder.
Greece's defensive setup is well known: They sit in a low block, pack numbers behind the ball and try to break through Georgios Samaras and Dimitris Salpingidis.
Usually the two just run in straight lines for miles, but on Saturday they were happy to win free-kicks and allow their side to reconfigure higher up the pitch. The Piratiko showed some willingness to build play from the defensive and middle thirds—far more than we're historically used to anyway—and at half-time boasted 55 percent possession of the ball.
Colombia, on the other hand, rarely hit long balls unless they were carefully considered in behind the defence. They were tough to find as Greece sat deep, but there were one or two occasions in which Ibarbo and Pablo Armero found space over the top Mexico-style.
They mostly built slowly, looking to move the ball to the right-hand side and get Cuadrado on the ball. James, as a No. 10, was less involved than perhaps the crowd had hoped he would be.
The importance of hitting the byline—especially against teams set out in low blocks—cannot be underestimated.
Cuadrado cut Jose Holebas to shreds inside the opening six minutes, won a yard of space on the right and crossed in for the goal. Scrappy finish? Certainly, but Greece were undone as soon as Cuadrado got to the line.
Facing low blocks from deep is tough, nearly impossible, but get to the edge, and you can open them out. Midfield and defensive lines display more gaps sideways on than front on; if you can stretch it out, mistakes happen, and pockets appear.
Greece tried to work the ball forward progressively, but getting out of their own third proved difficult under strong pressure from Colombia off the ball.
Cuadrado, James, Teofilo and Co. led a good high press in the advanced areas, forcing mistakes in possession and high turnovers near the Greek box.
A very strong midfield presence from Carlos Sanchez and Abel Aguilar dissuaded the Piratiko from taking too many attacks into the central zones, and the centre-backs did well to slide out and deal with overloads in the wide areas.
Whether it was the intimidation factor of a physical, pressing midfield or a genuine lack of belief, Greece failed to spark anything in the final third and would too often take the safe, sideways pass rather than the positive, attacking one.
After the second goal, Fernando Santos sent on Ioannis Fetfatzidis, Kostas Mitroglou and Giorgios Karagounis to search for a way back into the game.
The substitutes did provide some good running, and the thrust from midfield was evident, but profligacy prevented them from notching, and James began finding acres of space on the counter-attack.
It got further and further out of Greece's reach, and they must now go into the second group match against Japan and grab a result. They showed their inability to find an attacking gear against Colombia, who held them to a clean sheet despite possessing frailties in defence.
Colombia, meanwhile, showed they have a few more gears to come with that final James goal.
Tactical Man of the Match: Teofilo Gutierrez
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