Colombia vs. Ivory Coast: 6 Things We Learned
Colombia moved to within touching distance of the last 16 of the 2014 World Cup with a close-fought 2-1 victory over Ivory Coast in Brasilia on Thursday.
Goals from James Rodriguez and Juan Quintero put Jose Pekerman's team into a two-goal lead with 20 minutes left to play. Ivory Coast fought back and reduced the deficit to one through Gervinho, but they were just unable to find an equaliser in the closing minutes.
Here are six things we learned from Colombia's 2-1 Group C victory over Ivory Coast.
'Home' Support Provides Welcome Helping Hand for Colombia
Full-back Juan Zuniga admitted, as per ABC Deportes (in Spanish), that he had been on the verge of tears during the rousing a cappella second verse of the Colombian national anthem, belted out by the thousands of fans inside the stadium for their victory over Greece.
Colombia again enjoyed the majority of the support in Brasilia on Thursday. They were greeted by a sea of yellow when they came out onto the pitch and their attacks and goals were cheered, while Ivorian possession was met with whistles.
A day after Chilean supporters had helped their team to victory against Spain in Rio de Janeiro, Colombia took power from their countrymen to fight off late pressure from their opponents and secure all three points.
James Rodriguez Can Be a Game-Controller as Well as a Game-Changer
James Rodriguez has established a reputation as an explosive player in the final third of the pitch—the sort of player who picks up the ball, runs at defenders and then fires off an accurate pass or shot.
With Macnelly Torres directing the play during Colombia's qualification campaign, that was generally the role he occupied.
We have, however, seen a slightly different side to Rodriguez's game during this World Cup. Freed from the defensive duties concomitant with his previous role on the left, he has flourished as Colombia's primary creative hub.
Not only is he capable of providing a finishing touch in front of goal—as he has done in both matches so far—but he is also comfortable dropping deep to receive the ball and helps organise Colombia's play.
Rodriguez sent Cuadrado free down the right in the buildup to Colombia's opening goal in the win over Greece, and twice he sprung Cuadrado forward Thursday. He was consistently involved throughout the first half, varying his movements and making himself available to take control of the ball.
His influence waned a little after the break, with substitute Juan Quintero given the central attacking midfield role, but this was still a performance to be proud of.
With every passing match he looks more and more suited to the role of Colombia's No. 10.
Carlos Sanchez Has a Key Role for Colombia
Carlos Sanchez is certainly not the most flashy player, but he does what he is asked to do quietly and efficiently.
He certainly impressed World Cup social reporter Juan Arango, who wrote on Twitter: "To me the star of the first half was Carlos Sanchez."
He acts as a shield in front of the back four—making tackles, tracking runners and playing the ball simply out of defence whenever he wins it.
Sanchez has proved himself a disciplined and able man-marker in the past—most notably in shackling Lionel Messi during Colombia’s 0-0 draw with Argentina during the 2011 Copa America—and he did a good job whenever he found himself in close attendance to Yaya Toure on Thursday.
The Elche midfielder had the necessary physicality to go toe-to-toe with Toure and largely subdued the Ivorian midfielder.
Sanchez received a yellow card in the victory over Greece and could, perhaps should, be rested from Colombia's final group match to avoid picking up a suspension ahead of the first knockout round.
Lamouchi Needs to Get It Right from the Start Against Greece
Sabri Lamouchi changed the formation of his team three times during Ivory Coast's come-from-behind-victory over Japan in their first match of the World Cup.
While such tactical proactivity is usually to be applauded, there was also a sense that his substitutions were an admittance of having got his system and personnel wrong at kickoff.
That feeling was supported by his side's performance on Thursday. They were second best for much of the first half and it was only once they went two goals down that they really started to play.
Max Gradel disappointed as a replacement for Salomon Kalou. Wilfried Bony, while starved of service for much of his hour on the pitch, failed to impose himself on the Colombian defence. Serge Aurier was only urged forward after they went behind.
Greece await in Ivory Coast's final group stage match and Lamouchi will know his side cannot afford to give that particular team an advantage. Greece are a side of limited quality, but they are very good at defending leads.
Lamouchi has to get things right from the start on Tuesday, which he is aware of (via FIFA.com): "We’ll now go back to our camp and get plenty of rest, because we’ll need to beat Greece by a big margin. I can’t see us qualifying any other way."
Aurier Needs Full License to Attack
Serge Aurier was one of Ivory Coast's best performers in their victory over Japan, providing the assists for both goals with excellent crosses from the right.
He was not a regular threat during the first half on Thursday, but he began to drive forward more regularly as the second half progressed, putting a number of dangerous balls into the area.
With his energy and acceleration, he got into numerous good positions down the right.
Sabri Lamouchi needs to find a way of getting Aurier on the ball high up the pitch as often as possible. Whether it means dropping Serey Die in between the centre-backs when Ivory Coast go forward—as he did for periods of the match against Japan—or employing Aurier higher up the pitch from the outset, some solution has to be found to give Aurier license to attack at will.
Ivory Coast Have to Take Less Risks in Their Own Half
Colombia's second goal, scored by Juan Quintero, came after James Rodriguez had dispossessed Serey Die inside the Ivorian half.
It was not the first time Ivory Coast had taken an unnecessary risk in possession—both Didier Zokora and Souleymane Bamba had given the ball away in similar circumstances, albeit without such a disastrous end result.
Colombia were more than capable of fashioning their own chances without the help of the Ivorians. By ceding possession in dangerous areas, Ivory Coast just made things even more difficult for themselves.