Soccer-Falcao's absence not Colombia's biggest concern


By Brian Homewood

BRASILIA, June 19 (Reuters) - Colombia overcame Radamel Falcao's absence again in their 2-1 win over Ivory Coast on Thursday and their performance suggested that their biggest worries might be elsewhere.

The South Americans, who have won two games at a World Cup for the first time and scored five goals in the process, showed once again that, even without top striker Falcao, they have a wealth of attacking options.

Playmaker James Rodriguez, 22, orchestrated Colombia's best moves in midfield and headed the first goal, giving an inspired performance which belied his youth and had coach Jose Pekerman singing his praises.

Juan Cuadrado was a constant menace down the right, setting up counterattacks with raking crossfield passes and hitting the post from an almost impossible angle while Juan Quintero, 21, came off the bench to score a coolly taken second goal.

Teofilio Gutierrez, despite a bad miss in the first half, again looked sharp and combined well with both Cuadrado and Rodriguez as Colombia swept forward.

Colombia are so strong in attack that Jackson Martinez, who this season's topscorer in the Portuguese league for Porto, and Sevilla's Carlos Bacca have not even got off the bench yet.

Overall, it was a highly satisfying performance for Colombia, who are back at the World Cup for the first time since 1998, looking fresher and more purposeful than ever before.

Few teams have looked as impressive going forward as Pekerman's side, also boosted by backing of thousands of compatriots who have made Belo Horizonte and Brasilia seem more like the steamy Caribbean port of Barranquilla where they usually play home games.

It has not all been plain sailing, however.

The wayward final pass, an old failing which bedeviled the team which reached three successive World Cups in the 1990s, was still in evidence, especially in the first half.

Colombia also allowed Ivory Coast plenty of chances to attack which a more efficient side may have punished them for.

Central defender Mario Yepes, who is 38 and came onto the scene just after the 1998 World Cup, had to come to the rescue early in the second half after Pablo Armero miskick let in Max Gradel.

They had another let off when Wilfried Bony attempted to meet Yaya Toure's floated cross with an extravagant scissors kick instead of a more orthodox header.

After taking a 2-0 lead, Colombia lost concentration and survived a torrid last 20 minutes in which Serge Aurier was allowed a free reign to attack almost at will down the Ivorian right.

In the dying minutes, with the crowd chanting "Ole", Colombia lost possession in midfield, the ball was played forward, Yepes appeared to have it covered but let the ball slip under his foot and forcing David Ospina to rush out of his goal and make a desperate save.

It was the sort of slack defending which could ultimately undo their hopes of a long run in the competition. (Reporting by Brian Homewood, Editing by Nigel Hunt)

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