There's just one word to describe today's World Cup action: WOW.
A huge, crushing upset for the second day in a row, an important win for an up-and-comer, and a well-fought battle between two under-rated sides were all seen today, and that doesn't even include the big win Italy earned over England. It was an absolutely fantastic day with four scintillating matches, so let's not delay any get straight to the recaps.
Colombia 3-0 Greece
Armero 5' (COL), Gutierrez 58' (COL), Rodriguez 90'+3 (COL)
Colombia launched out on the front foot early on and never really let up. Pablo Armero scored a shocking goal off a kind rebound in the opening minutes, something most Napoli fans still don't believe actually happened. It was just the first sign of things to come, though, as the run of play seemed almost tilted in Colombia's favor. The Greeks actually edged out possession, but rarely did much productive with it, whereas Colombia launched forwards with purpose and aggression every time they had the ball.
James Rodriguez had a fantastic match running the show for Colombia, pulling the strings from the tip of midfield with ease and constantly making life difficult for Greek defenders. He had a couple near-misses on goals and assists during the match, then finally netted one late in extra time that hammered home the final nail in Greece's coffin.
From a Napoli perspective, it was nice to see Camilo Zuniga have a good showing at right back today while he continues to work his way back from injury. He was well involved in Colombia's attacks, pairing very well with Fiorentina's Juan Cuadrado to help create two of Colombia's goals. He struggled defending Panagiotis Kone and Georgios Samara at times, but that's to be expected with as little as he's played since October. Seeing Armero score was stunning, but less so was his listless, confused-looking performance for the rest of the match.
Napoli fans looking for transfer targets were probably drooling over dreams of Martinez in blue, but more realistic and still enticing was Elche defensive mid Carlos Sanchez, who put in an impressive performance in choking down the central-focused Greek attack. Elche would almost certainly prefer to keep Sanchez, but are cash-strapped and likely couldn't afford to say no to a decent offer should Napoli turn their eye his way.
Uruguay 1-3 Costa Rica
Cavani pen. 24' (URU), Campbell 54' (COS), Duarte 57' (COS), Ureña 84' (COS)
This just in: Uruguay aren't very good.
Well, perhaps this isn't so much surprising to people who watched their qualifying campaign, which was atrocious at times and just plain bad for most of the rest, and required going to the playoff round in order to book tickets to Brazil. Everyone knew they'd have a tougher time without Luis Suarez in the lineup, but hey, Costa Rica are a pushover right?
The North American side put on a bunker-counter clinic, using a 5-4-1(!) and choking away any space that Edinson Cavani and the rotting corpse of Diego Forlan had hoped to work with. Given how hideously bad Uruguay's midfield and wingers are, that meant that Uruguay were rarely able to put together much of a threat, with their best chance of the match literally winding up as Cavani's penalty.
In the second half, Costa Rica got a bit more adventurous once they realized that Uruguay's midfield couldn't do anything to slow down their counter, and Joel Campbell really started to shine. His opener was a stunner, and he was key in the go-ahead goal as well. Costa Rica's dagger came off a divine Campbell throughball finished by Marcos Ureña that left jaws hanging wide open all around the world.
If this keeps up, Uruguay will be damn lucky to get out of the group.
The only Napoli involvement was that of loanee Walter Gargano, who did nothing to change the minds of those who think he should be sold this summer. Campbell should certainly perk the interest of those looking for transfer targets, as the Arsenal-owned youngster is rumored to be available this summer. If he keeps this up (after an impressive Champions League run with Olympiakos last season), suitors will be lining up around the block to get him.
England 1-2 Italy
Marchisio 35' (ITA), Sturridge 37' (ENG), Balotelli 50' (ITA)
The main event for most Napoli fans did not disappoint at all. A somewhat unconventional lineup for the Italians turned in to a surprisingly effective way to keep possession and thus blunt the attacking quality of England. A sterling marking effort from a combination of Claudio Marchisio and Antonio Candreva kept Steven Gerrard in check, and England struggled to keep a cogent attack together for long stretches of the match.
A short corner was dummied through Andrea Pirlo to about 25 yards straight out of goal and Claudio Marchisio unleashed a low rocket that Joe Hart didn't have a prayer of stopping. Daniel Sturridge equalized shortly after in a quality bit of play for England, but after that the play went almost all in Italy's favor.
Mario Balotelli almost scored on a lob just before the half except for a goal line clearance, but he wouldn't be denied in the second half, nodding in a pinpoint cross from Candreva to put Italy up 2-1. That scoreline held despite a brief barrage from England, with Italy managing to outclass their rivals for the rest of the match.
Sadly, we didn't get to see Lorenzo Insigne tonight, but he wasn't needed down the stretch of this match. Hopefully we see him against Costa Rica next week.
Côte d'Ivoire 2-1 Japan
Honda 15' (JPN), Bony 64' (CIV), Gervinho 66' (CIV)
This was far from a headliner match compared to the rest of the day, but man was this match fun. The Ivorians used their superior athleticism and power to their advantage, pounding forward with regularity, but Japan used their trademark discipline to keep them at bay. They took full advantage of a terrible mistake by Serge Aurier to go up 1-0, and after a good start in the second half that put the Ivorians on the back foot, it looked like Japan were ready to press forward and chase another goal.
Then Didier Drogba came on, and the whole match got flipped around. Moments after stepping on the pitch, he made his presence felt, bursting in to the box and shrugging off Maya Yoshida like he was a training dummy. Hey may be 36, but Drogba's still got it. Just two minutes later, Drogba had burst in to the box again, causing havoc in Japan's defense, pulling defenders at him and opening space that Aurier and Wilifred Bony took full advantage of to equalize. Two minutes after that, Aurier was left open to cross thanks to Drogba's presence once more, and he put in a bullet to the far post that Gervinho finished with ease.
It's rare that a single sub has such a massive and rapid impact, but that's exactly what bringing Drogba on did. He put on one hell of a show, and it's very likely the Ivory Coast would have lost if he hadn't come on and performed as he did.
There were no Napoli players involved (the only such match of the day!), but the Japanese player noted in the open thread as interesting to watch for a potential transfer, Hotaru Yamaguchi, put on a fine performance for the first hour of the match. He wasn't getting to bomb forward as is typical for him, but he supported to attack well and did better in his defensive duties than is typical for him. However, in the 54th minute, Japan took off Makoto Hasebe, a true defensive mid, in favor of their captain Yasuhito Endo, an attacking mid. That put the onus of the defensive duties ahead of the back line on Yamaguchi, and despite his best efforts, he's just not a defensive mid. Japan were eventually able to re-settle in to something that worked, but it was too little, too late.
Just three days in, and this is probably the best World Cup in recent memory. Every match has been compelling for their own reasons, and it's been so much fun to watch. Four matches and eleven hours of football in today, and everyone was left wanting more. This is football at it's best, and this is what the World Cup is all about. This is going to be one hell of a fun ride.