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Soccer-Perennial underachievers promise more thrills

Reuters

By Brian Homewood

BRASILIA, June 17 (Reuters) - Few teams have flattered to deceive over the years as much as Colombia and Ivory Coast who meet for the first time on Thursday in a battle of perennial World Cup underachievers.

Colombia have been exasperating their followers ever since 1993 when a stunning 5-0 World Cup qualifying win away to Argentina was announced as heralding a golden era which never materialised.

Ivory Coast have been blessed with a golden generation which, for all its undoubted talent, has repeatedly failed to deliver the expected riches and has become a regular visitor to last chance saloon in the last three years.

Both teams, however, have started the tournament with impressive wins, finally giving supporters hope that this time they can deliver on their exciting potential.

Colombia, taking part for the fifth time, kicked off with a 3-0 win over Greece, their biggest-ever win at a World Cup and one of their most convincing performances.

For more than 20 years since their historic win at the River Plate stadium, Colombia, now led by former Argentina coach Jose Pekerman, have been falling short of expectations.

They arrived at the 1994 World Cup among the favourites and were expected to expect the tournament alight with their slick, passing football.

But their campaign ended in failure and tragedy, with first round elimination followed by the shocking murder of defender Andres Escobar in Medellin shortly after they returned home.

Colombia were again eliminated in the first round in 1998 and failed to qualify at all for the following three tournaments when they replaced their open attacking style with an excessively defensively one. They did, however, win the Copa America which they hosted in 2001.

Ivory Coast's 2-1 win over Japan has given hope that they can finally get to the last sixteen for the first time.

Led by Didier Drogba, now 36, their current generation of players has failed to get past the group stage at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups and has seen a series of frustrating exits in the African Nations Cup.

They reached the final in 2012 only to lose to Zambia on penalties and, in what was regarded as absolutely their final chance, lost to Nigeria in the quarter-finals in 2013.

Both teams are stronger going forward than at the back and the match looks set to continue the run of open, entertaining games which have lit up the tournament.

Colombia have a wealth of attacking riches, led by midfielder James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado on the wing, so much so that they have made light of the absence of injured Radamel Falcao.

Ivory Coast played most of the second half against Japan with a four-pronged frontline to overcome their frailties as they came from behind to win 2-1.

Drogba was among the substitutes for the match and, after his second-half entrance helped inspire the Ivory Coast comeback, coach Sabri Lamouchi may again prefer to employ the talismanic former Chelsea striker as an impact player coming off the bench. (Reporting by Brian Homewood, Editing by Nigel Hunt)

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