Colombia defeated Ecuador 2-0 in the capital Quito on Tuesday to breath new life into their World Cup qualifying campaign for Russia 2018.
First half goals from James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado were enough to secure a first win for “Los Cafeteros” on Ecuadorean soil since 1996.
The win lifts Colombia onto 24 points provisionally taking second position in the CONMEBOL South America qualifying group, pending other results but significantly sees them overtake Argentina who suffered a shock 2-0 defeat to Bolivia in La Paz.
Colombia coach Jose Pekerman shuffled the pack yet again bringing Farid Diaz, Santiago Arias, Abel Aquilar, Edwin Cardona and Miguel Borja into the starting XI.
After frantic opening exchanges at the Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa, the home side went close to opening the scoring when an Enner Valencia free kick was sent fizzing past David Ospina’s post in the 16th minute.
Colombia’s Edwin Cardona had the ball in the Ecuadorean net a minute later, only to be ruled offside.
A rejuvenated, energetic Colombia began to gain a foothold in the game and hit the front in the 19th minute when Real Madrid star James Rodriguez bundled the ball into the net from a Miguel Borja cross.
The Colombia captain turned provider in the 33rd minute setting up Juan Cuadrado for a close-range tap in to double their lead.
While Ecuador rallied in the second half, a well balanced Colombian side restricted them to very few goal scoring opportunities.
Palmeiras striker Miguel Borja was a constant thorn in Ecuador’s side and was unlucky to be denied a penalty in the 72nd minute before forcing a point-blank save from Esteban Dreer a minute later.
The overall attacking prowess of the Colombians coupled with a disciplined, well organized defensive structure was enough for them to hold out for a win that puts qualification for Russia 2018 in their own hands.
Argentine coach Pekerman had come in for some criticism following several lacklustre displays but Tuesday’s win in Quito certainly seemed to indicate that he has finally found the balance he was looking for.
Pekerman’s side will travel to neighbors Venezuela in the next qualifier in August before hosting current leaders Brazil five days later in Barranquilla.
Their World Cup qualifying campaign will conclude in October with a home game against Paraguay before a final away date in Peru.
The top four teams qualify automatically with the fifth placed team securing a play-off for a World Cup berth.