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Iain Macintosh
Sunday, Jun 22, 2014

Sports

Effervescent Colombia

The New Paper | Iain Macintosh | Sunday, Jun 22, 2014

Colombia's midfielder James Rodriguez (L) challenges Ivory Coast's defender Serge Aurier during the Group C football match between Colombia and Ivory Coast at the Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia during the 2014 FIFA World Cup

GROUP C

COLOMBIA 2 (James Rodriguez 64, Juan Quintero 70)

IVORY COAST 1 (Gervinho 73)

Who needs Radamel Falcao?

Colombian fans were devastated when their star striker was injured in January, but his absence hasn't stopped their team from taking Group C by storm.

This hard fought 2-1 win over the Ivory Coast put Jose Pekerman's side on the brink of qualification for the next round. And no one will want to face them as the competition progresses.

While Teo Gutierrez has struggled at times to fill Falcao's boots, Colombia have a host of exciting attacking midfielders behind him to help out.

This was a victory built on the blistering pace of Juan Cuadrado, the invention of James Rodriguez and the precocious talent of Juan Quintero.

For much of the first half, it was simply a case of two strong midfields butting each other again and again like rutting stags. Cheick Tiote and Serey Die, who burst into tears during the national anthem, were robust for Ivory Coast, while Carlos Sanchez and Adel Aguilar of Colombia actually seemed to relish the physical battle in the central areas.

It was, by the standards of this astonishing World Cup, a very prosaic, old fashioned game, but it was no less entertaining for that.

At the back, Mario Yepes continued to belie his increasing years with another excellent display. The former AC Milan defender was excellent against Greece and continued the theme here. He will bow out at the end of the tournament and, at this rate, he'll be bowing out as close to the top as he could ever hope to be.

Unfortunately, the defensive excellence and midfield stability initially meant a shortage of goalmouth action.

Wilfried Bony, preferred to Didier Drogba once again, had a torrid time and didn't touch the ball at all inside Colombia's penalty area during the first half, while their opponents were reduced to direct balls into the channels, vainly attempting to find room behind the Ivorian fullbacks Gutierrez spurned Colombia's best chance before the break, racing unopposed to meet Cuadrado's cross and somehow spooning the ball wide from point blank range. It may yet go down as the miss of the tournament. A goal against Greece at the weekend will have given him the confidence to play understudy to Falcao, but a miss like that could bring him crashing back to earth.

Poor Bony's afternoon was encapsulated just before the hour mark. Yaya Toure dug the ball out of the turf and lofted it to the Swansea man, but it hung in the air for so long that Bony was caught in at least two minds and possibly more. He leaned, pivoted, slipped and fell over. The ball bounced harmlessly out of play. He was put out of his misery moments later, replaced to great acclaim from the crowd by Drogba.

Cuadrado might have broken the deadlock on 58 minutes, smashing the ball off the bar from a narrow angle after taking a beautiful pass from exciting subsititute Quintero. Instead, he turned provider in the 64th minute. It was his corner that found Rodriguez and the Monaco man's header almost burst the back of the net.

The advantage was doubled six minutes later. Rodriguez robbed Die on the ball, slipped it to Gutierrez who found Quintero and the 21-year-old fired home with the composure and confidence of a veteran.

The African side didn't go down without a fight. Former Arsenal player Gervinho turned the Colombian defence inside out and drove the ball home in the 73rd minute and they piled pressure on all the way to the final whistle, but to no avail. Colombia held out, and they could be the real surprise package of the tournament.

npsports@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 20, 2014.
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