BELO HORIZONTE Brazil (Reuters) - South
American dark horses Colombia cantered into the World Cup knockout round
on Thursday and 2010 semi-finalists Uruguay put hapless England on the
brink of elimination with a Luis Suarez-inspired 2-1 win.
Returning from knee surgery and facing several Liverpool team
mates, Suarez scored a brilliant header to put Uruguay ahead then
won the game with a lethal drive after Wayne Rooney had equalised
with his first World Cup goal.
"God Save The King!" read one proud banner over a photo of Suarez
among the hordes of blue-clad Uruguayans dancing at the final
whistle in Sao Paulo's Corinthians arena.
The charismatic Suarez celebrated the first goal with his doctor,
then showed class in hugging disconsolate Liverpool colleague and
England captain Steven Gerrard at the end.
"I dreamed about this. I am enjoying this moment after all the
criticism I had to take," said Suarez, who fought back tears after
his second goal.
The Uruguayan ace has had an up-and-down time in the Premier League
with bans for racism and biting before winning last season's Player
of the Year award.
Uruguay joined Italy and Costa Rica, who meet on Friday, on three
points with England on zero after two losses in Group D.
Having started their campaigns with exciting wins, Colombia and
Ivory Coast served up a thriller as expected in Brasilia.
Even without injured leading striker Radamel Falcao, the South
American champions are showing an abundance of offensive talent and
a lightning, counter-attacking style to surprise their rivals.
James Rodriguez beat Ivory Coast substitute Didier Drogba to a
corner with a powerful header for the first goal before Juan
Quintero coolly netted a second in a 2-1 win that put Colombia on
six points and guaranteed them a berth in the last 16.
Gervinho pulled one back for the Africans, but it was not enough to
stop the party among Colombia's yellow-clad masses, who are
rivalling the Brazilians for noise and colour.
On the pitch, Colombia's players have stolen the show for goal
celebrations, with a group dance routine reminiscent of Cameroon's
famous hip-wiggling display in 1990.
"I'm so happy, we're a united group and we never lack courage," said
Colombia coach Jose Pekerman, whose dream is a final against his
Japan and Greece slugged out a 0-0 draw in Thursday's last game,
leaving them joint bottom of Group C with one point each and
ensuring neither can catch group leaders Colombia.
Greece captain and midfielder Kostas Katsouranis let his team down
with a sending off for two yellow cards in a game full of
huff-and-puff but lacking Suarez-style clinical finishing.
Away from the on-field action, departing champions Spain were
licking their wounds after a shock early exit from the tournament
following losses to the Netherlands and Chile.
Despite conceding seven goals in a humiliating end to their rule of
world soccer, Spain's players showed dignity in defeat, admitting
they were outplayed and that an era had ended.
The 2010 World Cup winners, who also triumphed at the last two
European Championships, have a meaningless final game against
Australia to play before flying home and beginning the job of
rejuvenating their ageing squad of past greats.
Despondent Spanish fans could at least take heart from a talented
group of young players waiting on the sidelines, starting with David
De Gea who is likely to replace veteran captain and goalkeeper Iker
The mood of realism in Spain could hardly be further from the wild
euphoria in Chile where fans celebrated wildly one of the greatest
conquests in their football history.
Chile face the Netherlands on Monday in their final Group B match,
with both teams through but knowing defeat could see them face
Brazil in the second round.
"The team that filled the Maracana with football yesterday knows no
bounds," one Chilean newspaper commentator wrote. "Not even Brazil
can fill them with fear."
FANS LOVING IT
The no-holds barred football on display in Brazil is in stark
contrast to the cagey style seen in South Africa four years ago and
points to a global shift in tactics that has been welcomed by fans
the world over.
With the notable exception of Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, who has
been playing despite a knee problem, most of the big names have
looked on form, adding to the glamour already guaranteed by the
Away from the celebrities and riches on show among the 32 squads in
Brazil, however, there was a timely reminder from Africa of
football's mass appeal in humbler quarters.
In a bid to keep TV sets on for the full 90 minutes of games,
viewers in 65 million-strong Democratic Republic of Congo are being
told ahead of each match in Brazil to turn off lights and cookers so
as to ease the strain on the power grid.
It was French intellectual Albert Camus, a goalkeeper during his
youth in Algeria, who perhaps best summed up how the sport mirrors
life's vicissitudes in his comment: "All that I know most surely
about morality and obligations, I owe to football."
Thursday saw life's full spectrum at the World Cup.
A cheeky look-alike for Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari raised
laughs by giving a spoof interview on an aeroplane that duped one of
the nation's best-known journalists.
Then on a grim note, a Mexican fan was missing after falling off a
cruise ship taking 3,500 of his countrymen along the coast to the
city venue of their next game.
Friday's action starts with Italy and Costa Rica duelling for
supremacy in Group D after both opened with wins. Italy are hot
favourites after beating England 2-1 but Costa Rica showed they are
no pushovers in a 3-1 upset of Uruguay.
Switzerland play France in an all-European clash of the Group E
leaders in Salvador. Then in the same section, Honduras and Ecuador
close Friday's programme in a battle between two tiny Latin American
nations just thrilled to be here.
(Additional reporting by Iain Rogers and Alonso Soto in Brasilia,
Todd Benson in Sao Paulo, Peter Jones in Kinshasa, William Schomberg
in Rio de Janeiro; editing by Ken Ferris)