Colombia vs. Ivory Coast: James Rodriguez & Cuadrado Star in Transition Football

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Colombia vs. Ivory Coast: James Rodriguez & Cuadrado Star in Transition Football
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Colombia moved into pole position to qualify from FIFA World Cup Group C on Thursday evening by beating Ivory Coast 2-1 in Brasilia.

The deadlock was broken by the magnificent James Rodriguez in the second half via a header from a corner, then substitute Juan Quintero doubled the lead by sliding home on the counter.

Gervinho's retort made for a nervy final 15 minutes, but Los Cafeteros held out for a second consecutive win.

 

Formations and XIs

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Colombia elected for an unchanged XI and formation from the first victory over Greece, with the 4-2-3-1 formation retained, Rodriguez in the No. 10 role and Teofilo Gutierrez up front.

Ivory Coast, too, retained the 4-2-3-1 shape they started with against Japan. Wilfried Bony continued up top, but Max Gradel came in for Salomon Kalou on the wing.

 

King James

With both sides in a 4-2-3-1, Colombia and Ivory Coast took it in turns to trade spells of pressure in their respective final thirds.

The former ran everything almost exclusively through James Rodriguez while in possession, with the Monaco man sitting in the No. 10 role and feeding passes into the channels for runners.

Unfortunately many were over-hit, and as his influence waned, the Elephants' double-pivot of Serey Die and Cheick Tiote livened up and began to clamp him. He subsequently dropped deeper and deeper to find the ball, and while his long-range passing was suitably better, he began entering the wrong areas of the pitch.

Juan Guillermo Cuadrado emerged as a viable No. 2 option, running on the outside frequently and using Camilo Zuniga as a decoy to gallop into space. Arthur Boka, the left-back, had a nightmare of a game tracking him.

 

Aurier the Key

In their opener against Japan, Serge Aurier emerged as Ivory Coast's best weapon surging forward, and it was his two crosses that resulted in Wilfried Bony and Gervinho goals. 

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They showed faith in him again on Thursday, pushing the ball into his feet high up and asking him to send in an astonishing number of crosses. Gervinho, on the opposite flank, committed to a number of mazy dribbles that won the Elephants valuable ground.

The team's approach was visibly split: from the left, short-passing and dribbling; from the right, crosses from Aurier.

Pablo Armero failed to deal with the power and speed Aurier offered, while the weaving Gervinho took on a line of defenders before firing home for a consolation goal.

 

Transitions

When 4-2-3-1 meets 4-2-3-1, it's often the team who has a little more spark, creativity or can engineer an extra yard of space that wins.

Alternatively, if one side is magnificent in transition football (as Colombia are), that can win out too.

The speed at which Los Cafeteros move the ball between the lines, surging from defence to attack in just a few passes that take just a few seconds, is remarkable.

Rodriguez, Gutierrez, Victor Ibarbo, Cuadrado and even Armero excel in this area, and when Colombia fire it forward but keep it on the deck, you're in trouble.

It's where the true value of Gutierrez comes out, with his dummy runs, dropping in and running on the shoulder confusing centre-backs and pulling them around. From there, his midfielders use the channels he's opened, and he was unfortunate not to convert a stunning move that ended in a Rodriguez cross in the first half.

We've had the potential for many counterattacks at this tournament, but poor passing has broken them up. With Colombia, that's never going to be an issue.

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