4 Things Colombia Must Change Following Win vs. Ivory Coast
Colombia won its second group-stage match and has ensured a spot in the second round of the tournament. There are many positive aspects to highlight from Jose Pekerman's squad, but there is still room for improvement as well.
After defeating Ivory Coast 2-1 in Brasilia, it is clear that this Colombia is much more than just Radamel Falcao.
James Rodriguez is in extraordinary form. The Monaco playmaker is present in almost every Colombian attack and can score as well as create. Rodriguez is also in perfect tune with Juan Cuadrado and Teofilo Gutierrez, the quick combinations and movements from the trio demonstrate an impressive coordination that keeps the opposing defense in a state of constant alert.
Behind the Colombian main offensive weapons are two guarding shields that give balance to the team. Abel Aguilar and Carlos Sanchez can effectively take part in the creation of the South Americans' plays but can easily become fundamental in destroying the opposing team's build-up.
What was thought to be Colombia's weakest line, the defense, has proved to be solid enough to give confidence to the team on its constant search for the goal.
Its full-backs' attacking skills and synchronization with the upper lines have given Colombia's offense a full range of options in attack. Mario Yepes might be old and have speed limitations, but the veteran center back has taken over the guidance of the defense with great mastery and an unmatchable sense of location that allows him to be at the right place at the right time.
There are many things to praise from the already historic Colombia's performance, but if it wants to go further than the team did in Italy '90, there are a few things that could still be adjusted.
Here are four things that Colombia must change after its triumph over Ivory Coast.
Victor Ibardo Isn’t the Answer on the Left
Jose Pekerman used Victor Ibardo as his left winger, and the idea is that he should be performing similar to what Cuadrado does on the right wing, but he has failed to have an impact.
Ibardo demonstrated his capability during the pre-World Cup matches that Colombia played on Argentinian soil against Senegal and Jordan. His performances not only earned him a place in Pekerman's final roster but also a starting XI spot for the World Cup.
Against Senegal, Ibardo was a constant headache for the Africans' defense, as he dominated the right wing and took an active role on the buildup of Colombia's attacking plays. When needed, Ibardo even went back considerably to get the ball and started Colombia's attacks from behind midfield. With tremendous speed and skill he proved to be a worthy member of this Colombia team.
At that point it was thought that he could be Cuadrado's perfect replacement. Pekerman decided to experiment and sent him on the left wing against Jordan. Ibardo did not impress as he did against Senegal, but he still had a decent game.
However, Pekerman's decision to start him on the left during the World Cup hasn't worked as planned. Ibardo has shown that he is best on the right and that the left side isn’t his strong side.
With Cuadrado looking sharp on the right, it is time to think of Ibardo as Cuadrado’s replacement. Colombia’s manager probably already realized this, as his patience had evidently run out when he substituted Ibardo early in the second half for Juan Quintero.
In the minutes that Quintero was on the field, he looked more comfortable than Ibardo and even managed to score Colombia’s second goal.
Quintero looks like the obvious answer for Pekerman on the left.
Teofilo Gutierrez Needs to Be Lethal
Teo is Colombia’s main striker, as Pekerman decided to play him as the only forward and instead of pairing him up with someone else, he receives the constant support of James Rodriguez and two wingers.
Gutierrez has been perfectly connected with James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado. Against Ivory Coast on Thursday he had two clear chances in the first half to open the scoreboard.
The first one came after a long ball from Rodriguez in which Cuadrado and Teo made crossing-path runs, and ended with a backheel pass from Cuadrado for Gutierrez to try a shot on goal. The second one came off a perfect cross from James Rodriguez in which Teo managed to find himself unchallenged, but his strike was awful and the ball went wide.
Teo used to be the second striker when Radamel Falcao was around in the qualifiers, but now he has to fill the shoes of the Tiger. That means he has to find a way to find the net when clear chances like Thursday’s come along. Against a tougher team in the knockout round, those chances aren’t coming back and will end up being the difference between moving on to the next round and facing elimination.
The understanding that Cuadrado and Rodriguez have with Teo is hard to find, and probably no other striker in Colombia’s roster has that chemistry with the two playmakers. So the solution isn’t to send Gutierrez to the bench, but to have Teo find his goalscoring form and focus to convert chances.
The Little Details in the Back
For the most part, the defensive line of Colombia has been solid, but it still has some minor issues that could prove costly later on. Those little details that need to be addressed didn’t come from a defensive group lack of synchronization or failure to adapt to Pekerman’s system, but rather from individual mistakes coming from overconfidence or lack of concentration.
Goalkeeper David Ospina, on his rush to get Colombia on a counterattack ended up giving the ball to an Ivory Coast player, the play ended with a dangerous shot from Serge Aurier that Ospina was able to save.
In the second half, Pablo Armero could have cleared the ball easily outside Colombia’s box, but his indecision or maybe lack of concentration made him miscalculate the pass, and the Africans got the ball into Colombia’s box.
Gervinho scored a great goal for Ivory Coast, dribbling past defenders and producing a great shot. It is hard to blame anyone when you concede a goal like that one, and I’m certainly not going to point fingers at anyone for the goal.
However, there is a detail in the play that could be addressed. When Gervinho was dribbling past Carlos Sanchez, the Colombian midfielder fouled him in the box, but Gervinho didn’t fall and went on to score. Gervinho was coming into the box in a horizontal manner, not facing the goal and definitely didn’t have the best option to score.
Regardless of Gervinho scoring or not, Sanchez should realize it wasn’t the smartest of the plays to foul him at that point in the play, most of the times that play could have ended in no goal at all as there was a lot of traffic in the box. Instead, Sanchez gave the forward, and even the referee, an excuse to argue/call a penalty kick even if Gervinho had missed the shot.
Colombia had the control of the game for most of the 90 minutes, with constant attacks that had the Ivory Coast defense busy and worried. Especially when James Rodriguez or Juan Cuadrado got the ball, there was a sense that Colombia will end up with a clear chance to score.
Ivory Coast won its first game of the group-stage against Japan so wasn’t facing elimination by losing to Colombia and had no need to risk it all to look for a comeback.
Therefore, it is not understandable that Colombia ended up suffering a bit in the final minutes of the match. The difference was only one goal, but the reality of the game was that Colombia was superior. There wasn't really any need for Colombia get its lines to back up and allow for the increased pressure from the Africans to become more tangible.
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