Colombia and Ivory Coast both started their World Cup campaigns with deserved victories, meaning if there's a winner of their clash in Brasília on Thursday, they'll be well on their way to the knockout stages. On paper, the exciting Colombia are favourites heading into this clash -- especially after they put three past a typically terrible Greece in their opener.
However, the convincing way Ivory Coast came from behind to brush Japan aside in their first match suggests it could be a tougher game than Colombia would've hoped. They're a team with tremendous pace and power in their lineup, and with Los Cafeteros often leaving a lot of space in behind their defence when attacking, Les Éléphants could take advantage with their width.
Colombia surprised by starting a lopsided 4-2-3-1 in their opening win over Greece, with Víctor Ibarbo starting on the left over the more out-and-out striker Carlos Bacca. José Pekerman could be forced into doing the same again against Ivory Coast, with the Sevilla forward having left their training session with a muscular injury on Sunday. No changes are expected to their starting team.
Meanwhile Ivory Coast boss Sabri Lamouchi has a selection dilemma in attack, with Wilfried Bony having started as the lone striker over captain and legend Didier Drogba against Japan. Drogba did come on in the second half and Les Éléphants promptly scored the two goals that guaranteed their victory, though it remains to be seen whether he'll be given the nod here.
Projected lineups (left to right)
Colombia starting lineup (4-2-3-1): David Ospina; Pablo Armero, Cristián Zapata, Mario Yepes, Juan Zúñiga; Carlos Sánchez, Abel Aguilar; Víctor Ibarbo, James Rodríguez, Juan Cuadrado; Teófilo Gutiérrez.
The wide battle - Both of Ivory Coast's goals against Japan came from deep crosses from the very attack-minded right-back Serge Aurier, with Arthur Boka on the opposite side of defence also pushing very high up the field. Colombia will have to watch their advances, though could have success on the counter if they can get in behind through Víctor Ibarbo and Juan Cuadrado. However, the same is true for Ivory Coast, whose wingers Salomon Kalou and Gervinho could enjoy the space vacated by Colombia's advancing fullbacks Juan Zúñiga and Pablo Armero.
James Rodríguez vs. Ivory Coast's midfield pivot - In Colombia's opening game wonderkid James Rodríguez was a standout performer, drifting freely across the centre of the pitch in a more central role that we were used to seeing in qualifying. His movement allowed Los Cafeteros to make neat passing triangles in the centre of the field, and slice through Greece's solid core with their quick interchanges. Ivory Coast could do with keeping him as quiet as possible to stop him being so influential again.
Colombia's centre-backs vs. Ivory Coast's strikers - Colombia's weakest position is certainly at centre-back, where Cristián Zapata and Mario Yepes make up one of the most unconvincing pairings of any of the more fancied World Cup outfits. Should they have as much trouble against the physicality and aerial prowess of Ivory Coast's strikers as Japan's centre-backs did, then there's a pretty good chance they're going to concede.
Both of these teams have looked very strong going forward, though their defences are much weaker than their attacks. It's likely we can expect goals, and a high-tempo, counter-attacking contest. 2-2.