BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Colombia moved to the verge of qualifying for the World Cup’s knockout stage on Thursday, beating Ivory Coast 2-1 after scoring twice in a devastating six-minute spell in the second half.
Driven on by a partisan pro-Colombian crowd inside the Estadio Nacional, the South Americans went ahead through James Rodriguez’s powerful header from a corner in the 64th minute before substitute Juan Quintero added a second on a break following a defensive error.
Colombia held onto its lead, despite a brilliant 73rd-minute goal by Gervinho, for a second straight win in Group C. Colombia almost assured of reaching the second round for the time in the country’s history. Since 1998, every team that has earned six points in the group stage has advanced.
Instead of Radamel Falcao, the brilliant Monaco striker who was ruled out through 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 — who remain on three points after their 2-1 opening win over Japan.
“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 after Ivory Coast’s strong finish.
“I must say that we didn’t deserve to lose,” Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi said. “It was very experienced Colombia team who waited for us to make mistakes.”
With Yaya Toure starting flatly and Didier Drogba again starting on the bench, Ivory Coast threatened only through long-range shots in a first half marked by a comic moment when a large inflatable ball bounced onto the playing surface, causing a brief stoppage.
The best chance of the first half was spurned by Teofilo Gutierrez, who miscued a volley with the goal at his mercy after being perfectly set up by Rodriguez’s left-wing cross in the 28th
Juan Cuadrado lit up a cagey opening to the second half by bringing down a long pass, shimmying past his marker and rifling a powerful shot that was tipped onto the crossbar by goalkeeper Boubacar Barry. Inside a stadium named after 1960s World Cup star Mane Garrincha, it was a piece of right-wing trickery that the Brazil great would have enjoyed.
Drogba entered on the hour, to a mixture of jeers and applause, but he was found wanting in the leadup to Rodriguez’s goal four minutes later, the playmaker beating him to Cuadrado’s corner and heading powerfully into the net for his second goal of the tournament.
The celebrations had hardly died down when Ivory Coast midfielder Serey Die was dispossessed inside his own half, allowing Gutierrez to create a chance for Quintero, who made no mistake with a side-foot finish.
In a frenetic last quarter of the match, Ivory Coast — driven by Drogba — finished strongly.
Gervinho’s goal was one of the best pieces of individual skill so far at this World Cup, the Roma winger skipping between two defenders, cutting inside a third and beating David Ospina at his near post. But there was to be no equalizer.