BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil — Colombia started its first World Cup campaign in 16 years in dazzling fashion, beating Greece 3-0 to open Group C on Saturday in front of a big, loud pro-Colombian crowd.
Left back Pablo Armero opened the scoring in the fifth minute when his deflected shot rolled past Greece goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis. Striker Teofilo Gutierrez poked in Colombia’s second goal from a deflected corner in the 58th and James Rodriguez capped it off with a low shot in stoppage time after a slick backheel flick from Juan Cuadrado.
Colombia’s pace and trickery were too much for Greece to handle in the latter stages as the 57,174 crowd, most dressed in bright yellow shirts, constantly chanted “Ole, ole” at Estadio Mineriao.
“It was a good debut with players who had never played a World Cup. It’s a big satisfaction,” Colombia coach Jose Pekerman said. “This is how we planned this match. Some things turned out the way we wanted, some things didn’t, but we were very focused and showed that we’re here to play a good World Cup.”
Rodriguez said the result showed Colombia was on the right path.
“It’s a good start, but we have to be calm for what’s ahead, which will be even more difficult,” he said, looking ahead at Group C matches against Ivory Coast and Japan.
Greece had the majority of possession with 54 percent, but whenever Colombia players got hold of the ball, they blazed down the flanks and through the middle of the pitch, disorientating their opponents.
The Greeks had a chance to pull a goal back after Gutierrez scored, but an unmarked Georgios Samaras rattled the crossbar from two yards out.
There were other chances, too. Panagiotis Kone’s shot went just wide in the first half. Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina then made an outstanding reaction save to deny Kone just before halftime.
“You can’t make excuses when you lose 3-0,” Greece coach Fernando Santos said. “We had good spells of play and all we can do now is look at the next matches.”
Kone said Greece didn’t make the most of its possession and the chances it created.
“The score doesn’t show it, but I think we played well,” he said. “But these games are turned on the details, and they didn’t work for us today. We’re still proud to be here, and we’ll continue to play hard.”
Greece defenders started getting frustrated with Colombia’s pace in the second half and began to foul the South Americans, with two players picked up yellow cards within minutes.
The result will give Colombia confidence that it can win competitive matches without star striker Radamel Falcao, who was ruled out after failing to recover from a serious knee injury. The other Group C teams, Ivory Coast and Japan, were playing later Saturday.
Greece will now have to regroup ahead of its second match against Japan after its notoriously solid defense leaked three goals.
Colombia 3, Greece 0
At Estadio Mineriao — Belo Horizonte, Brazil
First half—1, Colombia, Pablo Armero 1, 5th minute. Second half—2, Colombia, Teofilo Gutierrez 1, 58th. 3, Colombia, James Rodriguez 1, 90th, injury time.
Shots—Colombia 13, Greece 12. Shots On Goal—Colombia 7, Greece 6. Yellow Cards—Colombia, Carlos Sanchez, 26th. Greece, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, 52nd; Dimitrios Salpingidis, 55th. Offsides—Colombia 1, Greece 3. Fouls Committed—Colombia 19, Greece 14. Fouls Against—Colombia 14, Greece 17. Corner Kicks—Colombia 4, Greece 4. Referee—Mark Geiger, United States. Linesmen—Mark Hurd, United States; Joe Fletcher, Canada. A—57,174.
Colombia: David Ospina; Juan Zuniga, Cristian Zapata, Mario Yepes, Pablo Armero (Santiago Arias, 74th); Abel Aguilar (Alexander Mejia, 69th), Carlos Sanchez, Juan Cuadrado, James Rodriguez; Victor Ibarbo, Teofilo Gutierrez (Jackson Martinez, 76th).
Greece: Orestis Karnezis; Vasileios Torosidis, Konstantinos Manolas, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Jose Cholevas; Ioannis Maniatis, Konstantinos Katsouranis, Panagiotis Kone (Georgios Karagounis, 78th); Dimitrios Salpingidis (Ioannis Fetfatzidis, 57th), Georgios Samaras, Theofanis Gekas (Konstantinos Mitroglou, 64th).