Rio de Janeiro: Both Ivory Coast and Costa Rica rallied from a goal down to beat Japan and Uruguay respectively while Italy outlasted England 2-1 and Colombia slammed Greece 3-0 in the group stage of the World Cup football.
Superstar Didier Drogba gave Ivory Coast a huge lift after coming off the bench as the Ivorians beat Japan 2-1 in a Group C match in Arena Pernambuco.
After midfielder Keisuke Honda scored the opener in the 16th minute, Japan kept the 1-0 lead till Drogba showed up in the field in the 62nd minute.
“The Elephants”, as the Ivorian squad is nicknamed, found the rhythm back as two headed goals were scored in a span of two minutes by Wilfried Bony in the 64th and Gervinho in the 66th minute.
In Fortaleza, Costa Rica fought back from one-goal down to upset a highly rated Uruguay 3-1 in Group D.
Uruguay’s star striker Luis Suarez, recovering from a knee surgery, was left on the bench as Tabarez did not want to take any risk. PSG forward Edinson Cavani paired up with veteran Diego Forlan, the winner of Golden Ball award in 2010 South Africa World Cup, to lead the attacking line for the Uruguayans under a 4-4-2 formation.
Centre-back and Uruguay captain Diego Lugano was brought down in the box 22 minutes into the match when he was trying to meet a freekick from the left flank. Cavani converted the penalty with a powerful shot into the low right corner.
Uruguay also had a goal turned down in the 14th minute because defender Diego Godin was found off-side by the assistant referee.
The “Ticos”, as Costa Ricans call themselves, paid much attention on their defence as they fielded five defenders and only left Arsenal forward Joel Campbell upfront. Their best opportunity in the first half came in the 30th minute when a deflected shot from Giancarlo Gonzalez hit the side of the net.
Costa Rica posed more threats in the second half. Defender Oscar Duarte’s close-range hammer from the far post was blocked by Urugary akeeper Fernando Muslera five minutes after the break.
But the “Ticos” did not wait for long to level the score.
The 21-year-old Campbell, on loan to Greek giants Olympiacos last season, chested down a cross deep from the right and slotted home the equaliser with his left foot in the 53rd minute.
The Uruguayans were still coping with the astonishment of conceding the goal when Costa Rica scored again three minutes later. Duarte, again, received a freekick pass in the far post and only this time his sharp-angled diving header managed to beat Muslera and awarded the “Ticos” a one goal lead.
In the 84th minute, Campbell set up a fine through pass to second half substitute Marco Urena. The 24-year-old striker from Russian side FC Kuban Krasnodar rounded off the score to 3-1 with his right foot effort only one minute after being brought onto the pitch.
However, Uruguay’s misery did not end there. During injury time of the match, their defender Maximiliano Pereira received a red card for deliberately kicking Campbell and will miss the next match against England.
In the European affair, Mario Balotelli struck a second-half winner as Italy got the better of England 2-1 while Group C seeds Colombia breezed past Greece 3-0.
In the sapping Amazon heat at Manaus, Claudio Marchisio opened the scoring at the Arena Amazonia stadium in the 35th minute with a fizzing low drive that gave Joe Hart no chance.
Daniel Sturridge equalised two minutes later by slotting in from a close range.
But AC Milan striker Balotelli regained the Azzurri’s advantage by heading in at the far post just after halftime.
Wayne Rooney, who as expected played in a deeper role, began to assert greater influence in the second half as Italy’s legs tired.
He had the chance to equalise just after the hour but could only manage to drag his shot wide off a Leighton Baines’ pass.
England continued to press and the Italian keeper Salvatore Sirigu was again called into action by Leighton Baines’ curling shot over wall.
But Cesare Prandelli’s side defended stoically as both teams pushed themselves to the point of exhaustion in the final minutes.
Andrew Pirlo, seemingly averse to the conditions with a typically assured performance at the heart of Italy’s midfield, almost made it 3-1 but his dipping injury-time free-kick cannoned off the crossbar.
In Horizonte, Colombia enjoyed a flying start as defender Pablo Armero scored only five minutes into the game. He got on the end of the cross and his shot took a deceiving deflection beating Greek goalkeeper Orstis Karnezis.
One minute later, assisted by Georgios Samaras, Greece midfielder Panagiotis Kone smashed a right-footed shot from the centre of the box. It was very close, but missed, going to the right.
River Plate’s forward Teofilo Gutierrez lifted Colombia to 2-0 in the 58th minute when he found the back of the net off a deflected corner and was at the doorstep to tap it in.
Greece forward Theofanis Gekas got a dive in the 63rd minute but his header smashed off the crossbar. He was replaced by Konstantinos Mitroglou one minute later.
Ioannis Fetfatzidis from Italy’s Genoa, who substituted Salpingidis in the second half, played eye-catching football, but he did not get enough ball possession.
Colombia’s James Rodriguez from AS Monaco, the No. 10 on the field, scored a wonderful goal in injury time to widen the gap to 3-0.
Rodriguez, the Man of the Match, said he was very happy because “we won and I scored”. He hopes to keep winning in this way.