Colombia joins Argentina at the top of their CONEMBOL World Cup Qualifying group courtesy of a James Rodriguez first half winner.
Jose Pekerman opted to line his side up in a 4-4-2 with Teofilo Gutierrez and Falcao leading the line. James Rodriguez and Macnelly Torres operated on the flanks, while Abel Aguilar and Carlos Sanchez formed a midfield two.
Reinaldo Rueda was without top striker Felipe Caicedo or first-choice goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez, so he also decided to align his side in a 4-4-2. Enner Valencia and Jefferson Montero formed Ecuador’s strike partnership upfront. Antonio Valencia and Mendez operated on the flanks, with Christian Noboa and Segundo Castillo sitting deep in midfield.
It was a shame to see majority of this match played 11v10, robbing us of what could’ve been a South American spectacle – despite the weather conditions – considering Ecuador’s bright start.
Much of the pre-match talk heading into this clash was focused on Rueda, and how he’d approach the match. Ecuador has failed to win an away match in qualifiers thus far, so heading into a match against a Colombian side that hasn’t conceded a goal in four matches, without their prolific striker, was always going to be difficult.
But prior to Gabriel Achilier’s sending off, Rueda’s men had settled into the match, and were arguably the better side. Ecuador dropped into two banks of four without the ball, and Mendez and E.Valencia were applying minimal pressure to the Colombian centre backs, often being more concerned with keeping a compact shape to cut out balls being played into midfield.
Aguilar and Sanchez took up deeper positions to find openings in midfield, but the Ecuadorians were disciplined. Both wide men adopted deeper positions to prevent Juan Zuniga and Pablo Armero from pushing forward and creating overloads. Overall, when the match was 11v11, Ecuador – with some help from the horrific pitch conditions – nullified majority of Colombia’s attack, and got into better positions in the final third.
Colombia down the left/movement
Rueda’s men did a great job in restricting Colombia from moving forward, but the movement from Teo and Rodriguez played a significant role in the success Pekerman’s men received going forward. Rodriguez tends to drift into central positions, and this pulled Valencia out of position, allowing Armero to surge forward. Torres also tucked in centrally to have a numerical advantage in midfield, thus leading to their superiority in central areas. In both ways, it benefitted Colombia, as Armero provided width, while Rodriguez was an extra passing outlet between the lines.
Teo’s movement also played a key role in Colombia’s success in the first half. His constant runs into the channels freed up space for the midfield and James to operate, but he also drifted centrally, which encouraged Zuniga to take on Montero. Rodriguez’s winner was a great example of Teo’s and Rodriguez’s movement. Both men moved centrally and combined well with Falcao, which led to the Colombian striker forcing Maximo Banguera to make a quality save, and Rodriguez calmly slotted his shot past the Ecuadorian keeper.
Ecuador’s shape was impressive, but the movement from Rodriguez and Teo opened up space for Pekerman’s attackers to exploit, and they didn’t pass up the opportunity.
Ecuador spent most of the half without the ball, attempting to nullify Colombia’s strengths, but Rueda’s men had their fair share of chances. Montero in particular continued to dazzle for the national team, being an influential figure on the counter attack. The Ecuadorian attacker relished 1v1 situations with Zuniga, and exploited the space behind the Colombian fullback when he aimed to venture forward.
Montero made powerful runs from deep positions, using his pace and trickery to glide past defenders. The Ecuadorian attacker nearly gave his side an early lead with his venomous shot from distance, but David Ospina made a fantastic save to keep the game scoreless. Montero’s influence declined once Colombia settled into the match with their man advantage, but prior to Achilier’s dismissal, he was the key cog in Ecuador’s attack.
The second half lacked many tactical patterns due to the poor weather conditions and the fact that Ecuador was down a man. Pekerman decided to add more attacking impetus by introducing Juan Cuadrado and moving Torres into midfield. Rueda added Jorge Guagua to the backline and slotted Castillo back into midfield, as he covered at centreback towards the end of the first half.
Ecuador dropped into a 4-4-1 with A.Valencia as the lone figure upfront – his pace was integral for quick counters – and in the 60th minute he gave Rueda’s men a great opportunity to equalize. The Ecuadorian winger latched onto a simple ball over the top, and was pulled down in the box by Sanchez. Walter Ayovi stepped to the spot, but the Ecuadorian fullback sent his penalty inches wide of goal.
The numerical advantage in the second half allowed Colombia to dictate the tempo of the match, and they received more space to penetrate. Teo and James continued to find areas throughout the pitch to receive the ball, and the direct approach of Cuadrado also gave Rueda’s men another attacking threat.
Colombia closed out the match in fine fashion, and was unfortunate not to increase their lead – due to Falcao’s inability to finish – but was the superior side for majority of the second half.
The movement of the attacking trio behind Falcao caused a well-organized Ecuador side several problems in a match that lacked many tactical feats. The red card in the first half ruined a very tight affair, which saw Rueda’s men get into better positions in the final third.
Rueda’s men continue to receive disappointing results away from home, but the Ecuadorian manager’s tactics were effective when his side had 11 men on the field. Achilier’s dismissal hindered their chances of getting a result, which makes it difficult to criticize Ecuador, based on their performance at the start of the match. Although Rueda’s men look Rio-bound next summer, it’ll be interesting to watch this side develop over the next few months, especially in their matches away from home.
Colombia continues to impress on their journey to Rio, but this was one of their easier outings thus far, due to Achilier’s dismissal. Falcao’s fitness was not an issue due to the movement of his supporting cast, but they’ll face sterner tests in the near future. Pekerman will be pleased with the result, and despite the average performance, his side continues to display why they shouldn’t be overlooked, if they qualify for the World Cup.