Three Points: Colombia edge Ivorians
BRASILIA, Brazil -- Three thoughts from Colombia's 2-1 win over Ivory Coast, which moved the South American side to the top of Group C.
1. Colombia cruising through
Colombia are likely headed to the knockout rounds, taking their extremely loud fans with them. They took the roof off the Estadio Nacional when James Rodriguez crashed a header into the net to reward a mounting wave of pressure. What looked like a clincher from Juan Quintero was received even more rapturously, but then came shrieks of pain as Ivory Coast mounted a series of attacks that resulted in Gervinho pegging them back, the thrilling second half more than making up for a cagey first period that Ivory Coast had shaded without ever looking like scoring.
Brazil's capital had been totally colonised. Selecao shirts have filled every stadium this tournament, but this time they were a recessive blend to those of Los Cafeteros. The Colombians had come to party in this most modern of cities. The hotel district's high-rises rattled with the sound of song on Wednesday evening, a capital electrified by noise and colour. The Carlos Valderrama wig was especially favoured; wacky headgear is de rigueur among the 100,000 who have travelled from South America's northwest.
The Ivorians would not be undone in the passion stakes either, even when in such a minority. It was difficult not to feel sorry for the small band of African fans struggling to make themselves heard above the Colombians' din.
Like Chile, which so enjoyed ending Spain's tournament, Colombia are revelling in playing somewhere near to their own turf. Their supporters are converting each host city into a mini-Medellin. The noise level must be intimidating to opponents.
After Gervinho's goal, Colombia were clinging on, though they did restrict the late-arriving Didier Drogba to very little in the way of a clear-cut chance. Doggedness, and an adoption of some time-wasting tactics, saw out the victory.
Colombia present a clear, dangerous and noisy threat to the opponent from Group D that may await them in the last 16.
2. Drogba distractions
Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi has already marked himself out as a stubborn man. An exchange of Christmas cards between him and Drogba seems unlikely after he again left out the king of Ivorian football from his starting lineup.
Wilfried Bony's club form made him a compelling choice, as did the Swansea striker's goal against Japan, but losing without Drogba is a far greater risk to take than suffering defeat with him in the lineup. Lamouchi would be within his rights to state that he had the better team in the first half, even if the best chance fell to Colombia, and then suggest that Ivory Coast started losing once Drogba arrived on the field.
Drogba's replacement of Bony came at a bad time. His teammates were being pinned back and soon conceded to Rodriguez and then Quintero. At the other end of the field, the new arrival was powerless.
Drogba, as many a Chelsea manager would support, is not a man to enjoy a brief watch, even if he has been promised an impact sub's appearance. Lamouchi is entitled to suggest the Drogba issue is a distraction when considering that the Ivorians possess several other star names. However, Yaya Toure was not given the freedom that Manchester City allow him, even with Cheick Tiote as his deep-lying minder in a midfield that zipped with power rather than precision, with a final ball too often lacking from promising positions.
Tiote tried a first-half long-ranger, the likes of which he has not come close to scoring since he got the leveller in Newcastle's famous 4-4 draw with Arsenal in 2011. That the Gervinho playing here is the Roma version and not the man bereft of confidence who played for Arsenal was confirmed by his well-taken goal. Meanwhile, right-back Serge Aurier, expected to soon arrive at the Emirates to replace Bacary Sagna, carved himself a decent chance with a first-half inward dart.
Colombia's low block did not allow much space for Toure to run into, so most of his work was done as a short-passing prompter. He could not impose himself as he so often has in his time at one of the Premier League's true powerhouses.
Didier Zokora will be absent from his country's final group stage match with Greece after picking up a booking that he lamented with much theatrics. Until the dam broke in the second half, he had done a decent job as a makeshift centre-half, and it seems likely Kolo Toure will replace him in Fortaleza.
3. Rodriguez the inspiration
Colombia are hugely dangerous when making fast-break counters that carve out chance after chance. Their front three attack in a triangle that pull defenders in different directions and make them turn.
Initially, Juan Cuadrado and Victor Ibarbo were usually on hand to chase the flicked passes of Rodriguez, who sat off Teofilo Gutierrez, the striker filling the shoes of the lamented Radamel Falcao. Ibarbo looked far more comfortable when cutting infield than on the flanks, before Porto's Quintero replaced him to popular acclaim and eventual scoring success.
It was difficult not to think of Falcao when, with the Ivorian defence having disappeared from view, Gutierrez missed the first half's best opportunity. Rodriguez's cross from the left was perfect, but somehow Gutierrez tied himself in knots and ended up missing with the outside of a boot on entirely the wrong foot.
Rodriguez was almost always at the heart of Colombia's most threatening moments. The Monaco star showed why he is one of the most coveted players in European football with the performance of a classic No. 10, though his header for the opening goal was the centre-forward type that Falcao has patented -- and came while leaping over Drogba, which is no small feat. Colombian fans rose whenever Rodriguez arrived on the ball. While hardly unknown, he might yet be one of the breakout stars of this tournament.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.