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.”
Italy 2, England 1: At Manaus, Brazil, Mario Balotelli scored with a second-half header Saturday to give Italy the win.
The Italy striker was left free by his marker Gary Cahill and nodded a cross from Antonio Candreva past goalkeeper Joe Hart in the 50th minute.
Claudio Marchisio scored first for Italy, sending a long shot through a crowded area and past a diving Hart in the 35th. Daniel Sturridge equalized for England two minutes later, tapping in a cross from Wayne Rooney.
The win puts Italy in a strong position to qualify for the second round, and leaves England with plenty to do in its remaining two matches.
In the other Group D match, Costa Rica beat Uruguay 3-1, giving the 2010 semifinalists a similarly difficult task to advance.
Balotelli nearly scored another in first-half injury time, running deep into the area and enticing Hart to come off his line. The Italy striker stopped, looked toward goal and sent a chip over the keeper’s head — only for Phil Jagielka to clear by heading the ball over the bar.
England’s attack-minded lineup made frequent runs into the Italy area throughout the match, and came close to scoring several times.
The best of the chances came in the 24th when Danny Welbeck sent the ball across the front of goal but Andrea Barzagli was able to slide in and tip the ball up in the air. Raheem Sterling, who had been running in from the left, jumped for the header but couldn’t reach it, letting the ball go past him as he tumbled into the net.
Italy played without the injured Gianluigi Buffon. The 36-year-old Italy goalkeeper, who can play in his fourth World Cup if he is able to recover from an ankle problem, was replaced by Salvatore Sirigu.
The PSG keeper stepped up and made several good saves, but the best may have come in the 77th when he dived to his left to block a free kick from Leighton Baines.
The match was played in the Amazonian city of Manaus, the most exotic of the 12 World Cup venues for this year’s tournament. According to FIFA, it was 30 degrees C (86 degrees F) with humidity at a relatively low 61 percent for the match.
While none of the players appeared to be affected by the heat, there was an injury on the England bench when team physio Gary Lewin dislocated his ankle while celebrating Sturridge’s goal.
England and Italy were playing each other at the World Cup for only the second time. They also met in the third-place match at the 1990 World Cup, with the Italians also winning 2-1.
Ivory Coast 2, Japan 1: At Recife, Brazil, Didier Drogba came off the bench to inspire Ivory Coast to a comeback victory Group C.
Drogba, who had been carrying an injury, came on in the 62nd minute when his team was losing 1-0.
The talismanic striker’s arrival immediately lifted the Ivory Coast team and Wilfried Bony and Gervinho scored with headers two minutes apart. Both goals were set up by curling crosses from defender Serge Aurier.
Coach Sabri Lamouchi’s inspired substitution negated Keisuke Honda’s first half goal that had given Japan the lead in a group that also includes Colombia and Greece. Colombia beat Greece 3-0 earlier on Saturday.