Ecuador 0 Colombia 2: James the star as Pekerman's men leapfrog Argentina
James Rodriguez scored one and set up another as Colombia secured a valuable 2-0 World Cup qualifying win away to 10-man Ecuador on Tuesday.
The Real Madrid man broke the deadlock in Quito before teeing up Juan Cuadrado to double the lead before half-time and the visitors never looked likely to surrender their advantage as Ecuador offered rather meek resistance.
Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa is a notoriously difficult ground for away sides given its altitude of nearly 2,800 metres, with only Brazil and Paraguay able to take points off Ecuador in their last seven home World Cup qualifiers.
But it was Gustavo Quinteros' players who appeared dazed and confused in the first half, with James turning in a Miguel Borja cross before setting up Cuadrado 14 minutes later as the Ecuador defence collapsed.
Matters became more difficult for the hosts when Luis Caicedo was sent off for a second yellow card just past the hour mark and, although they missed chances for a third, Colombia's victory always looked assured.
Jose Pekerman's side climb to second in the South American section table – above Uruguay and Argentina, who lost 2-0 to Bolivia in the absence of the suspended Lionel Messi – while Ecuador drop out of the play-off place as a result of Chile's win over Venezuela.
In an open first 15 minutes, Enner Valencia crashed a free-kick just wide of the left-hand post before Edwin Cardona saw a cool finish ruled out for offside.
David Ospina beat away a fierce set-piece from Walter Ayovi, but Ecuador undid their encouraging start with some slack defending to allow Colombia the opening goal.
Borja raced clear down the left and played a clever outside-of-the-foot cross towards the penalty spot, where James arrived between defenders to bundle the ball over the line after it bounced off his chest.
Ecuador fans seemed deflated by the goal against the run of play and they were soon looking dejected when some more abject defending led to the visitors doubling their lead.
James ran onto Edwin Cardona's chip as Ecuador's offside trap fell to pieces and the Real Madrid man crossed for Cuadrado, who tapped home from six yards out.
The visitors had shouts for a second-half penalty waved away after Borja went over a challenge from goalkeeper Esteban Dreer, but Ecuador could not celebrate their reprieve for long as Caicedo collected his second booking on 61 minutes for a late challenge in the Colombia half.
Dreer made a fine one-handed save to deny Borja from close range after more good work from James, but although Ecuador committed men to the attack in the closing stages, they could not prevent what could prove to be a damaging blow to their World Cup hopes.