Unsung heroes come through for Italy

Italy players celebrate after Italy's Mario Balotelli scored his side's 2nd goal during the group D World Cup soccer match between England and Italy in Manaus, Brazil, Saturday, June 14, 2014.

Here’s what happened on Saturday at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, in case you missed it…

The results

Read match reports: Colombia 3, Greece 0 in Belo Horizonte || Uruguay 1, Costa Rica 3 in Fortaleza || England 1, Italy 2 in Manaus || Ivory Coast 2, Japan 1 in Recife

Thoughts on the day

Rodriguez shines for Colombia: James Rodriguez is only 22 but he plays with a maturity and intelligence far beyond his years. The AS Monaco midfielder put in a man-of-the-match performance against the Greeks setting up two goals before scoring one himself to seal Colombia’s first World Cup win in 16 years. His deft ball control and probing runs caused problems for Greece. But it was his ability to see the action play out before it actually happened that stood out on Colombia’s first goal. Rodriguez delivered an inch-perfect, long ball down the right for teammate Juan Cuadrado from the halfway line. Instead of admiring his work, he went on a lung-busting run forward and got himself into the box where he was aware enough to dummy Cuadrado’s return pass and allowed it to roll to teammate Pablo Armero who scored from eight yards out. It was a brilliant piece of work and outstanding vision by Rodriguez who you’ll likely be hearing a lot more from as this tournament progresses.

Costa Rica pulls off a stunner: Sure, Luis Suarez wasn’t healthy enough to start for Uruguay and remained an unused substitute. But give credit to Costa Rica who was full value for this huge upset win. Costa Rica gifted the South Americans a first half penalty, but Uruguay couldn’t take full advantage as their attacked floundered with Diego Forlan as the focal point. Costa Rica’s Joel Campbell ran rampant through the Uruguayan defence, exposing Diego Godin and Diego Lugano on a number of occasions. Uruguay’s back line couldn’t handle Costa Rica’s speed, and Oscar Tabarez’s side is lucky they only conceded three goals because it could have been much worse. Maxi Pereira was sent off for a clumsy foul on Campbell late in the game, compounding Uruguay’s misery and ruling him out for his country’s next game versus England.

Unsung heroes for Italy: Andrea Pirlo had another great game for Italy (more on him later) and Mario Balotelli netted the winner. But it was the efforts of Salvatore Sirigu, Antonio Candreva and Matteo Darmian that made the difference against England. Sirigu started in goal in place on the injured Gianluigi Buffon, and the PSG star made a number of key saves. If Buffon isn’t fit for Italy’s next game, Azzurri fans shouldn’t worry as Sirigu proved he is more than capable of taking over from the Juventus legend. Candreva and Darmian linked up very well down the right, as most of Italy’s best attacks came from that side of the field—and it was Candreva’s brilliant play to pick out Balotelli that led to Italy’s winner. As for England, where was Wayne Rooney? Aside from setting up Daniel Sturridge’s goal, the Manchester United star had a pretty quiet night, proving to be a defensive liability for most of the match.

98 seconds: That’s how long it took the Ivory Coast to turn things around against Japan, and become the fourth team at this tournament to come from behind to win. After conceding an early goal—a powerful strike from Keisuke Honda—and sleepwalking through the first half, the Africans finally woke up when Didier Drogba entered the game in the 60th minute. The introduction of the Ivorian icon, who started on the bench after suffering a hamstring injury in practice this week, totally changed the complexion of the game, as the Elephants were rejuvenated and had extra spring in their steps. With Drogba on the pitch, space opened up for other players, including Serge Aurier, who delivered great balls into the box from the right to set up headed goals by Wilfried Bony and Gervinho. The Ivory Coast showed character in coming from behind. But they can’t afford to come out that flat in future games, because better sides will punish their lackadaisical approach.

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Game within the game

From a tactical perspective, what stood out the most from Day 3 of the World Cup was how England allowed Andrea Pirlo to stroll around unchecked, instead of pressuring him and denying him time on the ball. Like he did two years against England at Euro 2012, Pirlo took full advantage, spraying passes around and conducting the midfield for the Italians.


Stat of the day

Goal of the day

A mere two minutes after Italy took the lead in the first half, England equalized through a perfectly-executed counter attack. Raheem Sterling fed a great through ball down the right for Wayne Rooney, who then delivered a perfect cross into the box for Daniel Sturridge to smash home.

Save of the day

Just before half time Uruguay forward Diego Forlan’s shot from the edge of the box took a deflection off a Costa Rica defender and appeared to be looping over the head of Keylor Navas. But the Costa Rican goalkeeper did brilliantly to scramble back and tip the ball just over the crossbar. That was the difference. If Navas doesn’t make that save, Uruguay would have taken a 2-0 lead into the half and Los Ticos would have been finished. Instead, they stormed back.

Match of the day

The heat of Manaus began to slow down the players in the second half a bit. But Italy-England was an entertaining affair that featured two distinct and different tactical approaches—the Azzurri deliberate in possession and their build-up play, while the English making use of their speed on the counter.

Best moment of the day

Pablo Armero’s first goal for Colombia led to best World Cup celebration dance since Roger Milla at Italia ’90—remember the Cameroonian’s jig at the corner flag?

He said it

“We’ve being playing this way for eight years. I don’t see why we should do anything different right know. It worked in South Africa (at the 2010 World Cup) and after that. Defence is not a dirty word.” – Oscar Tabarez, Uruguay coach

Question of the day

Tweet of the day

When Gianluigi Buffon was ruled out because of injury, NHL goaltender Roberto Luongo offered his services to Italy:

3 stars

1) James Rodriguez: Scored one goal and had a hand in setting up two others in Colombia’s win over Greece.
2) Joel Campbell: He was a lightning rod for Costa Rica, tormenting Uruguay’s defence with his speed and sublime touch on the ball.
3) Antonio Candreva: The Italian hounded Leighton Baines for most of the game with his great runs, and he and set up Mario Balotelli’s winner.

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