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Jun 17, 2014

Colombia vs. Ivory Coast: 50-50 Challenge

ColombiaColombia
Ivory CoastIvory Coast
2
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Match 21
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Colombia are already looking ahead to their Group C match with Ivory Coast after impressively dispatching the Greeks.

Our expert bloggers will give their thoughts ahead of each game, so as Colombia take on Ivory Coast in Group C, Carl Worswick (Colombia) and Sam Crocker (Ivory Coast) are your guides.

What's at stake?

Carl Worswick: The top two sides in Group C meet in Brasilia knowing that victory at the Estadio Mane Garrincha will almost certainly seal a spot in the knockout stage. That motivation will be huge for Colombia, which have only once before qualified from the groups (Italia '90).

They face Ivory Coast yet again rocked by an injury to one of their key players after striker Carlos Bacca limped out of training on Sunday with a muscle strain. He will miss the rest of the group stage and will be absent for what coach Jose Pekerman considers to be Colombia's toughest group match.

Sam Crocker: After these two teams both emerged victorious from their opening games, the early signs are that the pair will advance from Group C in the top two spots, as long as Ivory Coast beat Greece and Colombia beat Japan in the final round. Far from being a match with no meaning, the top spot is very much up for grabs and will provide an excellent trampoline to better things if they can face the weaker team out of Group D in the second round. While for drama purposes this game would probably be better suited to an exciting crescendo in the final round of group matches, a win for either team will be a massive confidence boost for its World Cup ambitions.

Ivory Coast came from behind to win their opening match against Japan, while Colombia cruised to victory over Greece.

X factor

CW: Teo Gutierrez. The River striker isn't a deadly marksman in the vein of Falcao -- his strike partner in qualifying -- but is a vital cog in the Pekerman tactical system for drawing defenders out of position and allowing the more creative elements in the side to flourish. His awareness, holdup play and selfless toiling will be crucial against an aging Ivorian back line that will already be under heavy pressure trying to deal with the pace employed by Colombia down the wings.

James Rodriguez, Juan Guillermo Cuadrado and Victor Ibarbo are each capable of individual brilliance and will cause Ivory Coast problems, but it's Gutierrez's movement and intelligence within the confines of a collective unit that really gets the best out of the team.

SC: With Pablo Armero frequently finding himself high up the pitch against Greece and Ibarbo's striking instincts limiting his defending, Colombia will struggle to deal with Serge Aurier in this match. Undoubtedly on a colossal high after the rave reviews he received for his performance against Japan, he most certainly has the tools to cause the Tricolor some serious problems -- assuming that he makes sure he deals with the danger Armero and Ibarbo could cause going forward.

Fear factor

CW: Undoubtedly at the back, where Wilfried Bony or Gervinho will have a lot of joy if he is left one-on-one with 38-year-old centre back Mario Yepes. The captain will get ripped to shreds in a battle for pace, which will probably mean Yepes shifting back a couple of yards to allow defensive partner Cristian Zapata the vital role of keeping the quick Ivorian strikers under check. If Gervinho starts in his familiar position on the left, rampaging wing-back Camilo Zuniga will have to be careful about making sure he gets back to cover. The Ivorian wing backs showed against Japan that they are dangerous coming forward.

The lively James Rodriguez made it 3-0 for Colombia in their opening win over Greece.

SC: While Arthur Boka put in a sterling performance against Japan from the left back position, the prospect of facing Cuadrado will not be something he'll be looking forward to. Causing constant problems down the right for Colombia against Greece, Cuadrado will not only be Boka's responsibility but also the responsibility of the centre-backs, having spent much time running in the channels between the defenders. Salomon Kalou is unlikely to be provide too much help to his fullback, so either Sol Bamba or Didier Zokora will have to step up to help out. Both players have a tendency to be quite clumsy with tricky dribblers, so there's every possibility that Cuadrado will be leaving one of them in his wake.

Key battle

CW: In midfield. With both teams boasting strong attacks but problems in defence, whichever team controls the central area could be key to dictating the rhythm of play. Colombia are without injured Edwin Valencia's steady watch as guardsman over the shaky defence, and the team is ill-equipped to withstand any real pressure from sides coming at it. The strength and energy of the Ivorian midfield will mean Carlos Sanchez needs to be on top of his game. The defensive midfielder performed admirably in containing Greece when the former European champions enjoyed their best spell toward the end of the first half. But against tougher opposition and in particular Ivorian star Yaya Toure, he will surely be tested more rigorously.

SC: Rodriguez certainly showed signs that he was just warming up versus Greece, so Serey Die will no doubt be instructed to stalk him about the pitch and make sure he doesn't get going. Sitting just behind the striker, Rodriguez will be looking to play people in and have a go from range himself, so it may be worth Ivory Coast manager Sabri Lamouchi telling Die to do some good, old-fashioned man-marking for the whole game. Suffocate Rodriguez and you will sever a good proportion of Colombia's creative spark. Die, with his prowling determination, will no doubt lap up the task of pouncing on the Monaco playmaker every time he gets the ball.

Prediction

CW: Colombia 2-2 Ivory Coast. So much attacking strength but too many flaws at the back for both teams naturally suggests goals. Colombia will have the slight edge but need to make sure they take control and inflict their game plan on Ivory Coast. Keeping it as tight as possible at the back will be key.

SC: I'm going for 2-2 as well. While the Japan win was impressive, I'm unsure that Ivory Coast has it in them to overcome Colombia just yet. I think enough of a threat from Greece was seen to fancy their chances of scoring, but I don't think Colombia will settle with such a defensive strategy as Japan did.

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