Colombia beat Cote d’Ivoire 2-1 Thursday, setting one foot in the World Cup’s elimination round after an electrifying second half of soccer between the Group C leaders.
With the win, “Los Cafeteros” find themselves in sole control of first place, with one game left to play in the group stage of the tournament.
Los Cafeteros looked for offense early down the right side through Juan Guillermo Cuadrado, and Colombia looked most dangerous working close combination play between him and James Rodriguez.
James was able to find space for himself behind the Ivorian midfield, but Colombia’s clearest chance came on a counter in the 28′ minute, when Cuadrado freed the Colombian playmaker on a long ball to the left side. James sent in an early cross to Teofilo Gutierrez, who, alone in front of goal, managed to send the ball off the bottom of his foot and out of bounds.
The Elephants, on the other hand, depended almost entirely on the break, with key tackles from captain Mario Alberto Yepes, left back Camilo Zuñiga, and holding midfielder Carlos Sanchez disrupting the Ivorians’ most promising runs into the Colombian defense. Yaya Toure was forced to play more out of the midfield than he would have liked, and a lunching challenge from Sanchez broke up his only free charge of the first 45 minutes.
The second half started more open than the first. with both teams trading attacks early.
Colombian head coach Jose Nestor Pekerman made the first change of the game in the 52′, bringing on Juan Fernando Quintero for winger Victor Ibarbo, who played a solid first half defensively but saw little of the ball.
The loose play favored the Ivorians early. The Elephants were able to attack quickly with low numbers back for Colombia, and only a desperation slide in the box from Yepes kept the Ivory Coast from putting in the first goal of the game.
A few minutes later, Cuadrado received a long ball from Quintero deep on the right side, in an eerie replay of Colombia’s first goal against Greece last Thursday. Cuadrado scissored twice and cut toward the touchline, sending in a scorching near post drive that was deflected by the Ivorian keeper off the far post.
It was Cuadrado again in the 63′, whipping in a nasty bender of a corner that James Rodriguez hammered into the upper near post netting for his second goal of the tournament.
The Ivorians did not delay in responding, but neither did Los Cafeteros.
Didier Drogba, who had come on a few minutes earlier for the Elephants, was brought down at the top of the box in the 67′, and a rebound shot off the ensuing free kick required a diving save from David Ospina.
Two minutes later, it was Colombia’s turn on the break. James turned over the Elephants in their own half, and Teofilo Gutierrez drove into the defense, laying off a pass to Quintero, who slotted a confident shot, one-touch into the far post.
The game did not slow down from there. In the 73′, Gervinho broke down three defenders on the Colombian left and brought the Ivory Coast back within one on a low drive that went off the fingertips of David Ospina.
Following the defensive letdown, Pekerman brought in Atletico Nacional’s Alexander Mejia for Abel Aguilar, who had put in a sloppy performance in his role in front of the Colombian backline.
Things sured up a bit from there, though the Ivory Coast continued to press the attack heading into the game’s closing minutes. In the 85′, a promising break for Colombia gave way to an Ivorian counter that wound up rolling slowly into the hands of an expectant David Ospina. Yepes appeared injured on the play, but eventually came back into the game and made two more crucial stops for Los Cafeteros before stoppage time.
Colombia didn’t control the game as well as it might have following the first score, but Los Cafeteros seemed adept enough at playing things out on the wire.