The 2014 World Cup will continue its run of brilliant drama and tense matches on Day 8, with Ivory Coast and Colombia set to kick off the action in a clash for supremacy in Group C.
Colombia thrashed Greece, 3-0, in its first World Cup match. There was concern the team would lack a finishing touch in the final third without star striker Radamel Falcao—injured for the duration of the tournament—but goalscorers James Rodriguez, Pablo Armero and Teofilo Gutierrez more than made up for his absence.
Ivory Coast provided one of the more stunning comebacks in the tournament, defeating Japan, 2-1, on goals from Wilfried Bony and Gervinho.
This match is a crucial one for both teams, as winning the group will likely mean an easier matchup in the round of 16. Colombia coach Jose Pekerman is bullish on his team's chances against Ivory Coast.
"Colombia proved (against Greece) that we have many positive assets. We can play, we can create good opportunities and we can take them," said Pekerman, via Sky Sports' Simon Wilkes.
Here are the current standings for Group C:
|Team||Matches Played||Wins||Draws||Losses||Goal Differential||Points|
Let's take a look at the key players who will likely determine the outcome of this intriguing World Cup clash.
Gervinho, Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast will need to match Colombia's rollicking attack with its own display of offensive firepower. Gervinho will be instrumental to the team's combination play in the final third on Thursday.
Gervinho scored the winner for Ivory Coast against Japan. He planted his considerable forehead on a cross from Serge Aurier to give The Elephants the 2-1 lead they would hold until the final whistle.
Prior to this stunning moment, Gervinho was a bit wasteful with his chances. He managed to get just one of his five total shots on goal, as per WhoScored.com. In fact, Ivory Coast as a team struggled to put the ball on target during the match, with just five of its 21 shots on frame.
Gervinho was vital to Ivory Coast's buildup play throughout the match. He is key to the team's ability to open up space with his speed and dribbling abilities.
Japan fouled him twice in the match; if he can work to get in dangerous positions his fleet-footed trickery could set up his team with some favorable set pieces. Bony, Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure are all capable of finishing off set pieces set up by Gervinho.
Didier Drogba, Ivory Coast
Drogba might prove to be the most dangerous super-sub of all time after this World Cup is done.
Ivory Coast looked a bit formless in attack and were certainly reeling after Japan went ahead early 1-0 on a brilliant Keisuke Honda strike. As the Ivorians wasted chance after chance in the match, their confidence began to wane.
As soon as Drogba came on for midfielder Serey Die in the 62nd minute, Ivory Coast looked like a brand new team.
Drobga drew wild cheers from the crowd as he made his way onto the field. Bony and Gervinho scored soon after his entrance on back-to-back headers that looked nearly identical in their buildup. ESPN Stats & Info has the key stat on Ivory Coast's goals:
The 100 seconds between Bony and Gervinho's goals is the least amount of time between goals so far in this World Cup #CIVvsJPN— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 15, 2014
Drogba certainly has the ability to start, but coach Sabri Lamouchi hinted he might continue to use him as a substitute, via David Waldstein of The New York Times:
People love Didier Drogba and I know there are many lovers of Drogba’s style. But you have to understand the last time he played 90 minutes was a few months ago in Turkey. He’s just recovered from injury. He made a lot of sacrifices to be here at the World Cup for his country.
When Drogba does enter the match, his ability to tie up central defenders with his size and hold-up play will be just as crucial to Ivory Coast's chances as his inspiring presence on the pitch.
Mario Yepes, Colombia
Mario Yepes is the oldest player in the tournament at 38 years old, and his ability to cope with the team speed of Ivory Coast will go a long way toward determining Colombia's fate in this matchup.
Yepes provides a wealth of experience to the young Colombian squad; the next-oldest defender on the team is Carlos Valdez at 29, and he has just 14 international caps to his name. The Guardian's Andy Hunter describes the importance of the team's defense in the buildup to the World Cup and the concerns surrounding it:
Colombia’s rearguard was the main concern for Pékerman and the team’s passionate followers before the World Cup. They conceded the fewest goals in the South American qualifying section, 13 goals in 16 games in finishing second to Argentina, but their back-line, and in particular their aged central defence, created an anxiety that increased during subsequent friendly fixtures.
How far will Colombia advance in 2014 World Cup?
Yepes is part of that age anxiety, but he brings vital experience to the squad heading into his 100th international match for Colombia.
Colombia will need to shut down Ivory Coast's attack and strike on the counter. Yepes' calm and composure nature on the ball—he had an 82 percent pass accuracy against Greece—will be key to his team getting the ball into good spots and creating solid buildup play.
All advanced stats courtesy of WhoScored.com.