Three points and the chance for a commanding lead in Group C, and thus a near guarantee for the knockout stages, will be on the line as Colombia faces Ivory Coast Thursday at Nacional in Brasilia.
Both teams are coming off victories, but Colombia manager Jose Pekerman may have to jostle his lineup as there are questions surrounding the team’s depth against a high-powered Ivory Coast attack.
Colombia will miss Carlos Bacca after the Sevilla striker suffered a leg muscle strain during training Sunday, and he’s expected to sit for the rest of the group stage. The country’s official Football Federation said in a statement that the 27-year-old requires a minimum of seven to 10 days of rest.
Colombia already shook off the loss of star striker Radamel Falcao to trounce Greece 3-0 in their opening game, and didn’t require Bacca’s services thanks to goals from defender Pablo Armero, forward Teofilo Gutierrez and midfielder James Rodriguez.
Goalkeeper David Ospina also came up with four saves, and continued to look like the player who notched 13 clean sheets for Nice in Ligue 1. He’ll have a much stiffer test against Ivory Coast.
With Bacca out and the Elephants attack capable of breaking past Ospina, Pekerman might bring Jackson Martinez on sooner than the 76th minute against Greece. The Porto center forward valued at £26 million has scored 46 goals in the last two years in Portugal, and has eight goals in 27 appearances for Colombia.
Manager Sabri Lamouchi opted to keep Didier Drogba out of the starting lineup, but two minutes after his arrival in the 62 nd minute Ivory Coast opened up its attack with two goals in the second half and took down a 2-1 victory over Japan.
Forward Wilfried Bony and winger Gervinho provided headers 98 seconds apart and the Elephants erased a one-goal deficit in the second half, with defender Serge Aurier assisting on both.
Gervinho and Yaya Toure allowed Ivory Coast to control the midfield and possession 57-43, and Colombia will have to find a way to control the center of the pitch and contain both players.
Start Time: Thursday, 12 p.m. EST
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Online Stream: A live online stream is available at Watch ESPN here
Betting Odds: Colombia -1
Over/Under: 3.5 goals, via Bovada.lv
Prediction: Colombia 1-1 Ivory Coast