Colombia's verve sets tone in Group C at World Cup
BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (AP) Colombia's new generation unlocked Greece's notoriously steely defense with such verve that they could just have become the team to beat in Group C at the World Cup.
The Colombians beat Greece 3-0 on Saturday, and didn't need star striker Radamel Falcao to do it.
Falcao, who was ruled out of the World Cup due to a knee injury, was just one among the thousands of Colombia supporters who dominated the crowd, turning Mineirao Stadium into a sea of yellow, tinged with red and blue in the colors of the national flag.
The fans chanted constantly as playmakers James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado sliced through Greece's defense and helped Colombia get an early jump in a group that also contains Japan and Ivory Coast.
Colombia's golden generation of the 1990s, led by Carlos ''El Pibe'' Valderrama, failed to live up to its promise. Now, Colombians are calling the 22-year-old Rodriguez ''El Nuevo Pibe,'' or the ''New Kid,'' and are hoping he can lead this group to the kind off success that the previous generation couldn't quite achieve.
Rodriguez capped a fine performance by scoring Colombia's third goal, after a neat backheel flick from Cuadrado.
Sloppy defending from Greece led to an early goal from Colombia, with Pablo Armero scoring in the fifth minute.
''The Greek defense was very strong, but we were solid and we had patience to find open spaces and the early goal was a big help,'' Rodriguez said.
Coach Jose Pekerman commended his team on winning Colombia's first World Cup match in 16 years. He also applauded Colombia's fans, saying the overwhelming support helped turn the stadium into a fortress for the team.
''I was very touched by what I saw in the stands,'' Pekerman said. ''The Colombian fans always support their team. They gave them confidence.''
But Greece's coach and players suggested the result wasn't as convincing as the scoreline. Greece controlled 54 percent of possession and defender Vassileos Torosidis called the score ''a mirage.''
Coach Fernando Santos said his team ''lacked concentration in the first 10 minutes.''
''After the goal we recovered control of the game and we could have equalized,'' he said. ''The result is misleading - It doesn't show what happened on the field.''
Colombia will get a chance to show the result wasn't an anomaly when it takes on Ivory Coast on Thursday.