By RYAN TOLMICH
Colombia stand on the verge of clinching a place in the knockout rounds of the World Cup for the first time in 24 years.
Thanks to the wonderfully talented left-foot of 21-year-old Juan Fernando Quintero, Colombia jumped out to a 2-0 lead and held on to defeat the Ivory Coast, 2-1, at the Estadio Nacional in Brasilia. Quintero’s goal followed James Rodriguez’s header and an impressive individual effort late from Gervinho to cut the deficit in half.
The two sides played wide open throughout the second half with the last 30 minutes featuring as much attacking play as any game so far this tournament.
After a scoreless first half, it was the Colombian star Rodriguez who ignited the game with a near-post header from a corner. Juan Cuadrado’s near post service found the leaping head of the Monaco star, who ran with his teammates towards the bench to partake in Colombia’s now signature full-team celebrations.
The Colombian’s doubled their advantage just six minutes later by taking advantage of an Ivory Coast turnover in the midfield. Colombia forward Teofilo Gutierrez kicked off the play with a through ball into the path of substitute Quintero, who curled the ball right into the back of the net.
In response, the Ivory Coast came back with some magic of their own via the beautiful individual play of Gervinho. The Roma winger dribbled and slipped his way past a slew of Colombia defenders before sliding the ball into the far post in what was certainly one of the most impressive individual efforts of the tournament thus far.
From there, the two sides went back and forth at each other with Colombia’s quest for some insurance being matched by the Ivory Coast’s fight for an equalizer. That equalizer nearly came via a mistake from the experienced Mario Yepes, who whiffed on the ball deep in his own zone. With Ivory Coast legend Didier Drogba charging, Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina bailed his defender out by rushing out and clearing the ball out of Drogba’s path.
With the victory, Colombia inch closer to advancing from the group stages for the first time since 1990 with a loss or draw from Japan being enough to get Colombia through. For their part, the Ivory Coast will now turn towards Tuesday’s clash with Greece, with the team very much still alive for a place in the tournament’s next round.