BELO HORIZONTE – Gp C: Colombia 3, Greece 0
—- Star striker Radamel Falcao sat up in the stands, a spectator, as his Colombia team-mates ran out decisive winners against a Greek side who never recovered from conceding a fifth minute goal to veteran defender Pablo Armero.
Teo Gutierrez (58 minutes) and James Rodriguez (90) scored the other goals to prove that Colombia can still score even without Monaco striker Falcao, who failed to overcome a knee ligament injury in time for the finals.
Napoli defender Armero, loaned to West Ham last season, rolled in Juan Cuadrado’s fifth-minute cut-back.
Gutierrez, leading Colombia’s attack in the absence of the injured Radamel Falcao, touched in from a James Rodriguez corner after the break. Falcao was their nine-goal top scorer in qualifying.
Theofanis Gekas headed Greece’s best chance against the bar, before Rodriguez steered in a late third.
Colombia, who are looking to progress beyond the last 16 of a World Cup for the first time after finishing runners-up to Argentina in South American qualifying.
Greece have now conceded in the opening seven minutes of their first match at each of their three World Cup finals appearances.
They went a goal down after two minutes of a 4-0 defeat against Argentina in Boston at the 1994 tournament, and in the seventh minute as they lost 2-0 to South Korea in Port Elizabeth at South Africa 2010.
Cheered on by the majority of the crowd at Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Jose Pekerman’s side responded with a goal inside the first five minutes.
The creative Juan Cuadrado rolled the ball across the penalty area from the right, and Armero – who spent the second half of last season at Upton Park – scored only his second goal in 54 international appearances with a shot that trundled in off Greece centre-back Kostas Manolas.
It was a far from spectacular goal – and television replays showed three Colombia players were standing in offside positions – but the left-back and his team-mates celebrated with an eye-catching dance in front of their bench.
The craft of £37.6m Monaco midfielder Rodriguez and pace of Cagliari forward Victor Ibarbo threatened repeatedly to cause further damage to the Greece back-line, although they had to be patient before the rewards came.
Pekerman’s defence had to survive some difficult moments themselves, with Panagiotis Kone unable to take either of two chances that came his way.
Kone should have equalised within seconds of Armero’s opener, but scuffed wide from 15 yards after former Celtic striker Georgios Samaras had cut the ball back to him from the left.
The Bologna midfielder went close again just before half-time when his 20-yard steered shot was pushed away athletically by keeper David Ospina after Gekas’s charge into the penalty area was held up and Samaras worked the ball loose.
But it was a frustrating afternoon for Greece, who lacked enough adventure to find a way back into the match.
After the impressive Rodriguez had ended a run with a shot from outside the area that keeper Orestis Karnezis beat away, he then delivered the corner that led to Colombia’s second goal, with Abel Aguilar flicking on at the near post for an unattended Gutierrez to touch in from inside the six-yard box.
Gekas, preferred to Fulham striker Kostas Mitroglou in attack, capped a day to forget when he headed Vasilis Torosidis’s nod back against the bar from six yards.
Colombia sealed victory with a stylish late goal, as the exciting Fiorentina midfielder Cuadrado burst to the edge of the penalty area before setting up Rodriguez to guide a shot into the corner of the net.