BRASILIA – Starved of the World Cup action for 16 years, Colombia — and its fanatical traveling supporters — are certainly making the most of being back on soccer’s biggest stage.
Driven on by a partisan pro-Colombian crowd that turned the Estadio Nacional into a sea of yellow, the South Americans scored through James Rodriguez and substitute Juan Quintero during a devastating six-minute spell in the second half to beat Cote d’Ivoire 2-1 on Thursday.
A second victory in Group C, and a 0-0 draw between Japan and Greece in the later group match, ensured Colombia would progress to the next stage.
“We have had two wins with players who are playing their first World Cup,” Colombia coach Jose Pekerman said. “We’re happy to have defeated such a good opponent. We have a lot of young players, and this is going to help them grow.”
Known for his midfield artistry, playmaker Rodriguez showed his prowess in the air by getting clear of Cote d’Ivoire captain Didier Drogba — again only used as a substitute — at a corner to head in Colombia’s opener in the 64th minute, lighting up a disappointing match.
The celebrations had hardly died down among the vast hordes of Colombia supporters by the time a defensive mistake by Cote d’Ivoire midfielder Serey Die allowed Teofilo Gutierrez to play in Quintero, and the midfielder slotted home a low finish.
Cote d’Ivoire replied with a brilliant 73rd-minute solo goal by Gervinho, his second of the World Cup, but couldn’t find a second despite a strong finish. The Ivorians remain on three points after their 2-1 opening win over Japan.
Instead of Radamel Falcao, the country’s star striker who was ruled out due to injury before the tournament, the most important factor in Colombia’s march through the group stage has arguably been its amazing support.
With supporters wearing yellow shirts dominating the stadium, it was effectively an away game for the Ivorians.
“It was extraordinary,” Rodriguez said, “it was very much in our favor that Colombia could win.”
The crowd roared with relief at the final whistle, with Drogba’s introduction in the 60th minute helping pep up Cote d’Ivoire’s attack that had previously looked rudderless with Wilfried Bony as the lone striker.
“I must say that we didn’t deserve to lose,” Cote d’Ivoire coach Sabri Lamouchi said. “It was very experienced Colombia team who waited for us to make mistakes.”
Drogba may now start the next match but Lamouchi will also be looking for more from the squads top player, Yaya Toure, who seems like a shadow of the player who starred for Manchester City in the English Premier League last season.
There was no mistaking the passion of the Cote d’Ivoire lineup — Die was in tears during the national anthem — but the team’s undoubted attacking quality has been lacking so far at this World Cup and Colombia looked more threatening going forward.
The best chance of a cagey first half was spurned by Gutierrez, who miscued a volley with the goal at his mercy after being perfectly set up by Rodriguez’s leftwing cross in the 28th. Otherwise, the highlight of the first 45 minutes came when a large inflatable ball bounced onto the playing surface, causing a brief stoppage.
Tricky winger Juan Cuadrado struck the bar with a fierce, angled shot before teammate Rodriguez, named man of the match, broke the deadlock with the kind of header that Drogba — the player supposed to be marking the Monaco playmaker — has been used to delivering.
Quintero’s side-footed finish gave Colombia some breathing room, meaning that Gervinho’s goal — he jinked through two defenders, beat another and shot inside goalkeeper David Ospina’s near post — proved to be just a consolation.
Colombia faces Japan in its last group game.