For the first half of the match, the Colombia and Ivory Coast players not on the field were just as important as the players on the field.
Colombia played a bit of “route 1” football even though Radamel Falcao is a spectator for this tournament. Had he been fully fit you might’ve expected Colombia to put away one of the several chances that went begging in the first half an hour of the match. For the Ivory Coast their starting striker, Wilfried Bony, is actually much better than what he’s showing in this tournament. Perhaps the Ivory Coast, as a unit, are much more familiar with the style and abilities of Didier Drogba. Bony has similar strength but is not nearly as acrobatic, tactical, or even patient and patience would’ve gone a long way early on. Ivory Coast players seemed to be living by the moniker “when in doubt, shoot” and although they came close once or twice, shooting from 20 or more yards away is not the recipe for success in the World Cup.
For the first 45 minutes the teams were very evenly matched in terms of speed and even strength. The most glaring difference was creativity. Colombia was incisive, threading the ball through to players making diagonal runs, and skipping players with space creating dummies. Ivory Coast were passing to the closest player and making the most obvious plays. Thus, Colombia had several legitimate scoring opportunities. Ivory Coast’s chances were of an arguable quality.
The second half started similar to the first stylistically. As Drogba was being introduced into the match I emailed a colleague telling her “Colombia’s looked pretty good but if they don’t score here Drogba’s probably going to win this match”. Cue the James Rodriguez header. As Drogba was settling into the match Colombia got a stroke of luck with a challenge that could’ve been whistled resulting in a 3 on 2 break that was well finished by Juan Quintero. Seemingly seconds later (the clock says it was 3 minutes) Gervinho receives the ball on the left hand side and proceeds to do things I’ve only seen done in video games, splitting defenders, avoiding challenges that could’ve resulted in a penalty kick, and then firing home to halve the deficit.
The last 15 minutes were study in what not to do if you’re trying to hold on for a win. Colombia continually tried to stretch the field and with every 20 yard pass that needed to be 19 yards they opened themselves up to counter attacks. In the end the steadying yet energizing force of Didier Drogba wasn’t enough to net Les Elephants an equalizer and the Colombians should be questioning how they let themselves get caught up in the moment rather than tactically taking the ball into the corners, milking the clock, and making things much easier on themselves.