Colombia beat Ivory Coast 2-1 here Thursday to vault to the top of Group C in the 2014 World Cup, leaving the Andean squad all but assured of a berth in the knockout phase.
Winning back-to-back World Cup matches for the first time in their history, the Colombians lead the group with six points, followed by Ivory Coast with three.
The other two teams in Group C, Japan and Greece, both lost their initial matches and face other later Thursday in Natal.
With the thermometer reading 30 C (86 F) at Brasilia’s Mane Garrincha stadium, the Ivorians opted to play at a measured pace and wait for Colombia to make a mistake.
The South American side, however, were running on all cylinders and after a scoreless first half, coach Jose Pekerman turned up the intensity by substituting playmaker Juan Guillermo Quintero for the more defensive-minded Victor Ibarbo.
The change proved to be inspired, as the 21-year-old Quintero took charge and forced the Ivorians back on their heels.
At the one-hour mark, Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi sent in legendary striker Didier Drogba.
But the move seemed to backfire four minutes later, when James Rodriguez beat Drogba one-on-one and headed the ball past Ivorian goalkeeper Boubacar Barry.
The thousands of Colombians in the stands erupted.
Ivory Coast began pressing on offense and Rodriguez intercepted a pass to set up a goal by Quintero in the 70th minute.
Before the Colombians could get too comfortable, however, Gervinho cut the lead in half with a brilliant individual effort at the 73-minute mark.
The Ivorians were relentless in pursuit of the equalizer and it took a solid save from keeper David Ospina in stoppage time to seal the win for Colombia.