In a game that exploded into life midway through the second half, Colombia edged out Ivory Coast 2-1 in Brasilia to move within touching distance of a place in the last 16 of the World Cup.
For more than an hour James Rodríguez and Juan Cuadrado produced moments of brilliance for a Colombia team that were in command but left frustrated by a combination of the frame of the goal and some woeful finishing from striker Teofilo Gutierrez. Then just past the hour mark the attacking duo finally combined for the goal their play deserved, with Rodriguez superbly heading in Cuadrado’s corner to give Colombia the lead. And six minutes later, it was 2-0. Rodriguez seized upon an Ivory Coast error and a few short seconds later the equally sublime substitute Juan Quintero slotted the ball into the net and sent the waves of tallow shirts in the Brazilian capital into unbridled jubilation.
In keeping with the flashes of magic going forward, Gervinho soon skipped past two Colombian challenges to half Ivory Coast’s deficit, but that was as far as the fight back went. In Colombia’s first appearance in the World Cup, their current team has now achieved something that proved beyond the famed and ultimately tragic generation of the early 1990s by winning two matches at the World Cup.
As in their opening victory over Greece there was a demonstration of the exuberant attacking play that will make them a threat for any side should they make it into the knockout rounds. If Japan fail to beat Greece later on Thursday that will be a reality for only the second time in the nation’s history. Ivory Coast, who as in their opening victory over Japan, came to life after going behind, are now likely to need a t least a positive result in their final game against Greece next Tuesday.
Before the game it looked like being a battle between Colombia’s wingers, who tore Greece apart, and Ivory Coast’s attacking full-backs, chiefly Serge Aurier, who had garnered two assists against Japan. That’s exactly how it panned out in the first half. Twice in the opening 20 minutes Cuadrado’s pace got him in behind. On both occasions, though, it failed to pay dividends, first with the disappointing Gutierrez firing poorly wide and then with Cuadrado scuffing his cross.
The best chance of the half came with Cuadrado and Rodriguez combined delightfully on the break to set up Gutierrez for what was a straight-forward chance in front of goal. Instead of sweeping the ball into the net for his second goal of the competition, the River Plate striker completely missed his kick. At the other end Aurier cut inside on the edge of the box and tested Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina with a low drive.
Still, it was Colombia who were imposing more of their will on their opponents, with Ivory Coast’s star man Yaya Toure for the most part kept under wraps by combative Colombia midfielder Carlos Sánchez.
There was no breakthrough, though, for the team cheered on passionately by almost every fan packed inside the sparkling new Estadio Nacional. With Victor Ibarbo struggling to make an impact, Quintero came on early in the second half and gave Colombia an added effective attacking weapon. Almost immediately the gifted young playmaker’s pass set up Cuadrado for a fierce effort from a tight angle that Barry got just enough to in order to help it onto the far post. In the 64th minute the deadlock was finally broken. Rodríguez, known far more for his ability with his feet, rose emphatically at the near post to power Cuadardo’s corner into the net.
Six minutes later the lead was doubled. Ivory Coast midfielder Serey Die lost the ball in midfield with much of his teammates caught up field, allowing Colombia to show their devastating attacking play in top gear. Quintero’s finish at the end of it showed admirable composure for a 21-year-old less than 20 minutes into his first appearance in a World Cup. Just as he had done in the Under-20 World Cup last year, Quintero had made quite the impression. It might have been even greater if an audacious lob from just inside the opposition half not have been just kept out by Barry.
In similar fashion to against Greece, the arrival of Didier Drogba off the bench to join the often isolated Wilfried Bony up front provided a catalyst for late pressure. This time it was Gervinho who did the damage. The Roma winger picked up the ball on the left byline, cut in past two Colombian players and finished empathically at the near post.
While brilliant from Gervinho, the defending left much to be desired for Colombia. And it is that side of their play remains the big qualifier to talk of them going deep in this World Cup. However, 38-year-old Mario Yepes was an influential rock at the back throughout and helped Colombia ultimately succeed in preventing Ivory Coast’s fight back from resulting in an equalizer.