The Ivorians sharpen their tusks: World Cup Preview - Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast are giants in African football, and suitably nicknamed ‘The Elephants’. The qualification process for African nations is different to that in Europe, with sides having to play their way through a series of rounds to become eligible for the main tournament itself. The Ivory Coast breezed through their first group stage, having faced Morocco, Tanzania, and Gambia. Remaining undefeated throughout their 6 matches and only dropping 4 points in the process (drawing twice against Morocco), they proceeded to the final qualification stage.
This stage is of course designed to be against tougher and more experienced opponents, and there is not a much bigger name on this stage than Senegal. Having won many fans with their exciting displays in the 2002 World Cup, their footballing fame was tested against the Ivory Coast. However, not in the least bit deterred, The Elephants triumphed 3-1 at home and secured a 1-1 draw in the away leg. Their path to Brazil this summer was achieved and they could enter the tournament on a good run of form with the confidence to surprise a few.
Preliminary 28-man World Cup Squad
Goalkeepers: Boubacar Barry (Lokeren), Sayouba Mandé (Stabæk), Badra Ali Sangaré (ASEC Mimosas), Sylvain Gbohouo (Séwé Sport).
Defenders: Didier Zokora and Sol Bamba (both Trabzonspor), Kolo Touré (Liverpool), Arthur Boka (Stuttgart), Benjamin Angoua (Valenciennes), Serge Aurier and Jean-Daniel Akpa-Akpro (both Toulouse), Constant Djakpa (Eintracht Frankfurt), Ousmane Viera (Caykur Rizespor).
Midfielders: Yaya Touré (Manchester City), Cheick Tioté (Newcastle United), Didier Ya Konan (Hannover 96), Max Gradel and Ismaël Diomande (Saint-Étienne), Serey Die (Basel), Mathis Bolly (Fortuna Düsseldorf).
Forwards: Didier Drogba (Galatasaray), Salomon Kalou (Lille), Gervinho (Roma), Wilfried Bony (Swansea City), Seydou Doumbia (CSKA Moscow), Lacina Traoré (Everton), Giovanni Sio (Basel).
Ivory Coast’s manager Sabri Lamouchi has certainly sided with the value of age and experience in selecting his squad for Brazil. No less than 7 of the 28 are at least 30 years old with their captain and talisman Drogba topping the charts at 36. There is not a great degree of depth to their squad in terms of international caps, as there are several members yet to break the 5-cap barrier. It will be very interesting to see if these players can perform at the required level if the situation demands it from them.
The squad is definitively strongest down the spine of the team. The Touré brothers have been stalwarts in the national set-up for many years now and provide both leadership and physical presence, ably assisted by the tenacious Tioté and veteran Zokora. The pinnacle of their front line is undoubtedly provided by Galatasaray’s Didier Drogba, but they have an abundance of pace on the flanks in the form of Gradel, Gervinho, and Kalou. Should Lacina Traoré prove his fitness also, then they will have two quality back-ups in the archetypal number 9 role.
Didier Drogba: Captain and legend throughout the entire of Africa, Drogba is a hero for all in the continent. He has remained a vital cog in the Ivory Coast machine even after progressing through his 30’s and losing a degree of his pace and physicality. The ex-Chelsea forward lifts his team’s morale simply through his presence on the pitch and still has the ability and cojones to pull off an outrageous piece of skill. Unshakeable from 12 yards, a monster in the air, and capable of unleashing a hugely powerful free-kick, Drogba’s contribution to his side can be seen clearly in both mental and physical aspects.
Yaya Touré:He proved to be the catalyst for Man City’s Premier League title victory, putting in countless match-winning performances in the run-in. This year, he seems to have developed a supreme ability to find the top corner with the vast majority of his free-kicks and he is calmness personified from the penalty spot. The only fear would be that Yaya’s exertions for Manchester City have tired him out somewhat, and may possibly deteriorate his brutal style. We are unlikely to see him on the world stage at an international tournament again at his peak, and so I’m sure he would love to translate his Premier League form onto the international front. Any team that faces Ivory Coast will be fearful of giving away fouls in shooting positions, and should also be wary of his powerful surges from midfield, often ending with an effort on goal.
Kolo Touré: While the older Touré brother has not been performing at his absolute best in recent years, he is still very much a solid part of this Ivory Coast team. He was side-lined for much of his latter career at Manchester City and a few mistakes around the festive period at Anfield caused his first team opportunities to be somewhat restricted. This summer may well be his last chance at a World Cup and I’m sure he’d love to go out on a high. Ivory Coast possess the majority of their talent in the attacking third of the pitch and so Kolo will need to be on top of his game and keep a tight ship at the back.
Probable Starting XI
Ghana were one kick away from becoming the first African side to reach the World Cup semi-finals, and this has to be the level that The Ivorians aspire to. I believe reaching even the quarter finals would count as success, but with the spine of their team almost certainly featuring in their last World Cup together, they will be determined to impress.
They have been relatively fortunate with their World Cup group selection, facing probably the weakest of the top seeds in Colombia, with the rest of the group being made up of Greece and Japan. It would be a huge disappointment for all associated with The Elephants if they did not progress from the group and they should certainly have aspirations to go through in top spot. Radamel Falcao’s presence at the finals is still in doubt and without him, Colombia would be a significantly weaker proposition. Should they win the group, they would face the second placed team from Group D, and interestingly enough, this could be expected to be any one of Italy, Uruguay or England. Ivory Coast would be underdogs in this sort of match-up but they certainly possess the firepower to cause these sides problems. It is not unreasonable to think that they could reach the quarter finals, but sadly for Drogba and co, I believe the last 16 will be the stumbling block for this Ivorian side.