Les Elephants improve, still fall short
In a yellow-clad stadium in Brasilia, Ivory Coast played out a competitive game with group favourites Colombia, before suffering a 2-1 loss. In a game that was predicted to be a thriller, the final 25 minutes delivered on the promise.
In a slightly mundane first half, both teams focused on their own defensive weaknesses rather than emphasising their offensive strengths, but a pair of goals for Colombia in the span of six minutes midway through the second half, answered by the Ivorians three minutes later, created an atmosphere that built to a crescendo as the West Africans tried to grab the equaliser. Difficult to pick out many deficiencies in a loss in which Colombia's quality shone through slightly more, there are lessons to be taken from the game.
Whether it's a natural trait of Sabri Lamouchi, or if he's just got caught up in the craziness of the World Cup thus far, the Ivory Coast manager once again showed right from the start of the game that he's willing to ruffle a few feathers. While Colombia went for an unchanged side, Les Elephants lined up without Salomon Kalou, a player who'd looked so disinterested against Japan.
While not directly effective during the game, Max Gradel showed a willingness to get involved, as opposed to the man he displaced. Kalou came on in Gradel's place in the second half, but it is more the significance of the action rather than the details of the action itself, and Lamouchi surely must have won a lot of admirers from the positive way he attempted to influence the game.
While neither Cheick Tiote nor Serey Die light up fans' faces quite like Kalou or Gradel, in terms of tactical positioning they are vital for keeping the score down, and proved so against Colombia. Put in for the precise purposes of stopping the ball getting to their back line, they did everything they could to stop James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado influencing the midfield.
And in large part, they were effective. Colombia's most effective strategy proved to be the counterattack.
However, it was Die's trademark turn in the centre of the pitch that was the downfall of Ivory Coast, in what was an atypical moment from the Basel midfielder. In a game in which the world saw him cry during the national anthem following the reported death of his father just two hours before the match, it was a shame that it was his mistake that gave Colombia a two-goal advantage. This moment shouldn't take away from the impressive game he had.
Familiar to English audiences as a dithering klutz, Gervinho, too, impressed, producing the sort of performance Roma have enjoyed from him all season. The icing on his cake, of course, was that glorious goal. Undoubtedly unplayable on his day, he was a constant thorn in the side of the Colombia defence, and he tricked his way through the opposition to be a constant hassle.
This is very important for the Ivorians should they escape the group stage, as this is the sort of quality they will need when they come up against tougher defences. Gervinho's ability to create for himself, as evidenced by his strike, could make all the difference against the next level of competition.
That creativity would only be emphasised in the event that Didier Drogba starts, as his link-up play with the rest of the team is far superior to that of the static Wilfried Bony. Drogba's insertion would allow Gervinho and Kalou to get in behind and push their influence closer to the goal. How long Bony will be able to hold down a starting place is debatable, having been so largely ineffective (aside from the goal in the first game) for the majority of the World Cup so far.
Sam Crocker has been interested in African football since completing his undergraduate dissertation on the African Nations Cup. After becoming an editorial assistant at Sandals for Goalposts, he has since done writing for The Telegraph and Four Four Two, as well as more general football writing for Squawka. You can follow him on Twitter @Sam_Crock.