Colombia took an important step toward securing a berth in the Round of 16 with a 2-1 victory over Côte d’Ivoire in Brasilia.
James Rodriguez opened the scoring in this end-to-end affair with a thumping header just after the hour. Second-half substitute Juan Quintero collected a pass from Teofilo Gutierrez on the break and slotted past Boubacar Barry to collect the second goal 10 minutes later. Gervinho responded for the Ivorians with a fine solo goal from the left shortly thereafter, but their efforts in the waning stages failed to produced the desired equalizer.
The result left Colombia atop Group C with six points and propelled Jose Pekerman’s side to qualifying after Japan and Greece fought to a draw later in the evening. Cote d’Ivoire sit two points clear in second place ahead of the decisive match against the Greeks in Fortaleza on Tuesday.
Both teams opened brightly with the sort of tempo expected after their opening victories. The early back and forth revealed the strength on the flanks for both sides, though it took a while for either team to really carve out any genuine chances.
Most of the incisive work resulted from brisk work from back to front. Gutierrez benefited from a clever Juan Cuadrado flick from direct service in the early stages, but he scuffed his effort under some duress from the recovering Didier Zokora. Cheick Tioté then fired over the bar from distance to complete a swift Ivorian move.
Colombia posed the greater threat for much of the first half with its willingness to play direct on the counter as the Ivorians struggled to supply their front three. Gutierrez squandered a glorious counter down the left with his scuffed first-time effort just before the half-hour, while Serge Aurier offered his riposte by forcing David Ospina to dive to his left to save at the near post.
Yaya Touré continued the theme in the opening stages of the second half by curling his free kick well wide of Ospina’s near post. Touré did much, much better with his inside-out ball toward Wilfried Bony at the far post moments later, but Bony could not connect with his overhead kick. Max Gradel nearly pounced after Pablo Armero conceded possession on the edge of the penalty area, but Mario Yepes slid over to snuff out the chance before Gradel could shoot.
The intervention nearly paved the way for the opener as Colombia hit the bar moments later. James Rodriguez clipped a clever ball over the top for Cuadrado. The lively winger danced around Arthur Boka to create a yard of space and thrashed his effort toward goal from a sharp angle. Boubacar Barry managed to parry the stinging drive onto the bar and watched thankfully as it deflected away to relative safety.
Didier Drogba replaced Bony on the hour in a bid to replicate his influential final half-hour against Japan at the weekend, but Colombia instead took the lead four minutes after his arrival through its own talisman. Cuadrado delivered an enticing ball to the near post. Rodriguez beat Drogba and Zokora to the spot with a determined run and thumped his header past the stranded Barry to place his side in front.
Côte d’Ivoire responded well to conceding and placed the Colombians under immediate pressure. Drogba hit a free kick into the wall from 25 yards before Aurier forced Ospina to block at his near post. The earnest endeavor left the Ivorians exposed at the back and ultimately paved the way for the critical second.
The blow came from a quick counter straight down the middle of the field after Serey Die conceded possession in midfield. Gutierrez ran at the exposed defense with options on either side. He wisely chose to slide substitute Quintero through on his right and reaped the rewards when the Porto winger slotted home to extend the lead.
Gervinho produced a moment of brilliance to pull his side back into the game after 73 minutes. His fine solo run drew him inside from the left and subsequently knifed through three Colombian defenders. He retained the necessary balance and composure to end his run with a fine finish past Ospina to throw his side a lifeline.
Côte d’Ivoire threw numbers into the attack in the waning stages in a bid to restore parity, but their efforts — including a Touré free kick through the penalty area — ultimately failed to yield to produce the equalizer required to take something from the game. The final whistle sparked wild celebrations from the Colombian bench with the knowledge that the victory placed them on the cusp of qualifying for the knockout stage.