Key Battles That Will Shape Colombia's World Cup Clash with Ivory Coast

Nick Dorrington@@chewingthecocaSpecial to Bleacher ReportJune 18, 2014

Key Battles That Will Shape Colombia's World Cup Clash with Ivory Coast

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    Colombia and Ivory Coast both began their World Cup campaigns with victories on Group C’s opening matchday. They meet in Brasilia on Thursday in what promises to be an interesting and exciting encounter between two well-matched teams.

    With little to choose between them, the outcome of Thursday’s match is likely to be decided by individual contests in important areas of the pitch. Here are the key battles that will shape the World Cup clash between Colombia and Ivory Coast.

Serey Die vs. James Rodriguez

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    James Rodriguez was the driving force behind Colombia’s comfortable 3-0 victory over Greece. He received more passes than any other Colombian player (59, as per, sent Juan Cuadrado free down the right in the buildup to the opening goal and then scored the third himself with a nice placed finish in second-half stoppage time.

    Rodriguez will again be Colombia’s central attacking midfielder on Thursday. The responsibility to track his movements is likely to fall on Serey Die, who performed a similar role in shadowing Keisuke Honda in Ivory Coast’s 2-1 victory over Japan.

    Honda did escape Die’s attentions on a couple of occasions, but the Basel midfielder otherwise did a good job against a tricky opponent. His athleticism was usually sufficient to make up for his intermittent lapses in concentration.

    Going the other way, Rodriguez will have to be alert in closing down Die, who was very efficient in distributing simply but crisply from the base of the midfield against Japan.

Carlos Sanchez vs. Yaya Toure

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    Yaya Toure was struggling for fitness ahead of Ivory Coast’s opening match, as per The Guardian, but he was included in Sabri Lamouchi’s starting lineup and put in a good, if slightly restrained, performance.

    The pace of Ivory Coast’s attacks accelerated every time the ball came his way. With a series of neat one-and-two-touch layoffs, he provided a reliable and efficient link between midfield and attack. He only managed a couple of his trademark forward bursts, but he was nevertheless a handful for Japan’s defensive midfielders.

    Carlos Sanchez is likely to be the man tasked with tracking Toure on Thursday. The Elche midfielder certainly has the necessary physicality to go toe-to-toe with the Manchester City midfielder and 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.

    If Sanchez can subdue Toure, Colombia will feel they have a good chance of winning the match.

Serge Aurier vs. Victor Ibarbo

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    Serge Aurier has been heavily linked with a summer move to Arsenal, per Simon Rice of the Independent, and the 21-year-old proved he is worthy of the interest with an excellent performance in the win over Japan.

    He started nervously, heading a harmless long ball forward out for a corner inside the first minute, but recovered to put in a superb display at both ends of the pitch. He was always alert to opportunities to intercept (as evidenced by a team-high six interceptions, as per and drove forward with pace and conviction, providing the assists for both goals with crosses from the right.

    “Serge brought us energy and balance,” Didier Drogba told after the match. “He had a fantastic game.”

    Aurier will, however, face a major test of his defensive abilities on Thursday, when he is likely to come up against Victor Ibarbo. Big, powerful and extremely quick, Ibarbo impressed with his strong and direct running in Colombia’s opener. He will provide Aurier with a very different threat to that posed by his last opponent, Shinji Kagawa.

    Ibarbo will, of course, also have to be aware of Aurier’s forward bursts. The contest between them is likely to be one of the most interesting story lines during Thursday’s match.

Gervinho and Salomon Kalou vs. Colombia’s Full-Backs

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    Colombia had the best defensive record in South America during the qualifiers and began their World Cup campaign with a clean sheet in victory over Greece.

    One area in which they have sometimes struggled defensively, however, is in behind their full-backs.

    Juan Zuniga is a very competent defender when faced up one-on-one by an opponent, but he can be guilty of failing to track runners in behind him. Pablo Armero also suffers from that fault, in addition to at times being rash in the tackle.

    Ivory Coast play with a lot of width in the final third, with Gervinho and Salomon Kalou flanking the central striker. They each offer a different threat. Gervinho is a quick, direct and unpredictable dribbler, while Kalou excels at getting himself into scoring positions inside the penalty area.

    In theory, Sabri Lamouchi would be best advised to deploy Gervinho on the right against Armero, with Kalou taking on Zuniga down the left.

    Colombia have a solid central base, with two deep-lying centre-backs and two defensive midfielders sat in front of them. Ivory Coast will have to make good use of the flanks if they hope to get a positive result, and Gervinho and Kalou are key to them doing so.