Ivory Coast’s golden generation has been plagued by the lack of success. Their special crop of players, spearheaded by talisman Didier Drogba, have entered nearly every African Cup of Nations as favourites but have fallen every time; twice in the finals (2008 and 2012).
Their luck in the World Cup has been less than spectacular. Ivory Coast have been drawn into the “Group of Death” in both of their recent campaigns. They were distinctly third best behind Argentina and Netherlands in 2006 while they put up a decent fight which ultimately proved not good enough in 2010 against Portugal and Brazil.
After navigating past the group stages of qualifying, Ivory Coast were drawn with Senegal in Round 3. The winner of this two-legged tie would advance to the World Cup. Ivory Coast won the first leg 3-1 thanks to goals from Drogba and Kalou. In the second leg, they were trailing 1-0 on the night but winning 3-2 on aggregate after Moussa Sow’s penalty before Kalou’s injury time goal sealed qualification for Ivory Coast – as they won 4-2 on aggregate.
For the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Ivory Coast been drawn into Group C alongside Japan, Colombia and Greece. These are three teams that new manager Sabri Lamouchi’s men will face, each with different style of plays.
Ivory Coast generally play with a 3-man midfield along with two advanced wingers. The three man midfield can either be like a 4-3-3 with a holder in front of the defence of a 4-2-3-1 as shown below (though it can be looked as a 4-2-1-3 too given the advanced positioning of Gervinho and Kalou).
Ivory Coast arguably boast the greatest midfield and strikeforce in all of Africa. Players such as Arouna Kone and Jean-Jacques Gosso are missing the cut in the preliminary squad. Ivory Coast aim to bully the other team as their entire team consists of strong players. Along with physicality, their midfield has brilliant talent on the ball too – spearheaded by Yaya Toure. Upfront, their intricate forward line relies on the two wingers – with Gervinho in particular a very dangerous player if he can stay consistent throughout the World Cup. However, for all the brilliance in this department, Ivory Coast’s defence leaves a lot to be desired. The defensive shambles in the 4-1 defeat to Mexico last year clearly showed that there are major defensive flaws within Lamouchi’s men.
It is this defence that will need to tighten up to something like the days of the African Cup of Nations 2012 under François Zahoui in which Ivory Coast finished runner-ups and didn’t conceded a single goal the whole tournament.
Boubacar “Copa” Barry is expected to retain his place in between the sticks. Barry is a solid if unspectacular keeper, though he is prone to the odd lapse here and there.
In front of him, the decision to not call up Emmanuel Eboue has seemingly cleared the way for young Serge Aurier to be the first choice right-back of the team. Aurier is one of the more complete full-backs in the world right now at the tender age of 21, and it’s clear that he’s destined for great things in his career. His combination of pace and power make him a nightmare of opposition wingers while he is good on the ball too – racking up 6 goals and 6 assists this season from the full-back role. He’ll be looking to announce himself on the world stage with this World Cup.
During the squad announcement, Lamouchi said: “I have traveled a lot, but I haven’t found better centre-backs than Kolo Toure and Sol Bamba.” The context has been that their aren’t better Ivorian centre-backs than these two for the squad – and it looks likely one of this pair will partner Didier Zokora at the heart of the defence. Lamouchi has also expressed concerns about 119-cap veteran’s (Zokora) current fitness – after being without a club for a few weeks following his termination from Trabzonspor. Bamba looks the more likely to get the callup over Kolo Toure in the team. He and Zokora will have their hands full in trying to contain the talents of Japan and Colombia. Kolo Toure has not had a regular run of games leading into the World Cup.
As Saika Tiene has not been called up, Arthur Boka seems to be the first choice left-back in what seems to be the weakest area of the field. His backup in the form of Constant Djakpa does not inspire much confidence into the team also – and the left flank can well be exposed by players such as James Rodriguez and Shinji Kagawa or whoever is on the right for their opponents in the group stage.
In front of them lies three physical midfielders with good technique on the ball as well. As Romaric and Jean-Daniel Akpa-Akpro have failed to make the cut, the usual midfield three of Serey Die, Cheick Tiote and Yaya Toure look set to be employed. These three either play as a 3-man central midfield or Cheick and Die go deep as defensive midfielders while Yaya focuses on the attacking midfielders’ role. This mainly depends on the type of match and the situation, along with the team faced which will determine how deep Yaya Toure and/or the midfield will sit. The midfield looks to assert it’s dominance via it’s physical presence, but they are still good on the ball – especially Toure.
Die and Tiote are two really good ball-winners and their task will be to break up attacks and neatly recycle possession. Yaya Toure can then focus more on his attacking runs, which have harvested 20 league goals this season without worrying much about defence. Yaya Toure is Ivory Coast’s main player and will need to be at his best each game.
Serey Die is very prone to bookings and suspensions and so Zokora and Diomande need to be vigilant as they may need to step into Die’s place at any time,
In case of chasing a result, Ivory Coast switch to a two-man midfield with another striker like Wilfried Bony or Lacina Traore. Against Belgium in the last fixture before the squad was announced, this tactic was used as Yaya Toure was withdrawn for Wilfried Bony – which worked as Ivory Coast equalized in the dying moments of the match.
As we look past the midfield and into the forward line – it’s clear there is talent and goals in this team. The two wingers slot either side of the striker. Both Gervinho & Kalou are explosive match-winners on the back of decent seasons who Ivory Coast will be relying for goals. Both prefer to cut in and take shots, and their conversion rate is good. However, they have shown a willingness to cross the ball as well – highlighted by the low crossing and cutbacks of Gervinho in particular for players like Drogba, Yaya Toure and Kalou.
Max Gradel, fresh off his equalizer against Belgium, along with Giovanni Sio present alternatives to make sure that Kalou and Gervinho are challenged for their spots as they are capable deputies.
Upfront, in what may well be his last bow in the World Cup, Didier Drogba is expected to lead the line. His tall frame is used to bully opposition defenders into submission while his sublime finishing along with big game pedigree is exactly what Ivory Coast want to see them through the group stages of the World Cup. Drogba has lost his pace and may not be as good as he once was – but he seems to find another gear and level of performance when it matters the most. You wouldn’t put it past him replicating a Drogba masterclass in the World Cup.
If Drogba is injured or out of form, Ivory Coast has a very able deputy in the form of Wilfried Bony. The Swansea man has been a revelation at the Liberty Stadium and can be considered unlucky to not have secured a permanent number one striker role in the team. Bony is a superb finisher who can use height and other attributes well. His technical game also is decent. Lacina Traore and Seydou Doumbia are also really good backups. Also, in case of a gung-ho approach or even if not, expect Bony to come off the bench in nearly all the games in which he doesn’t start.
Serey Die/Cheick Tiote | The duo will need to be at their best to ensure that Ivory Coast triumph in the midfield battle. As well as showing defensive tenacity – they will need to be good on the ball to ensure that wingers can receive the ball quickly in more advanced positions.
Yaya Toure | This man has lit up the Premier League and it can be argued may well be the most complete midfielder in the world. He has wonderful composure on the ball, his passing is pretty good, his ability to combine pace and power has resulted in incredible counter-attacking runs which the opposition have no clue how to stop. He can take set-pieces brilliantly while he has showcased his long-range shots to devastating effect this season. He has been Man City’s go to midfielder for the season – and he will need to show the same brilliance in Ivory Coast colours for the team to fulfill expectations.
Gervinho | Many people have argued that it is not Yaya Toure, but Gervinho who is key to Ivory Coast’s approach. He has shown frustrating inconsistency previously (as Arsenal fans would tell you) but he has enjoyed a solid season with Roma as they finished second in the table. He has found consistency and got an impressive 9 league goals and 10 league assists this season. His ability to play on either the left or the right allows him to switch flanks well while he will look to score and create goals in equal measure
TALENT RADAR KEY YOUNG PLAYER
Serge Aurier | The man primed to be Bacary Sagna’s replacement at Arsenal. Aurier’s performances in Ligue 1 – which yielded 6 goals have seen his stock rise and even provoked Lamouchi to leave Eboue off the team. It is hard to believe he is still 21. He has a tremendous positional sense and unlike most modern-day fullbacks he does not neglect his defensive duties. He is a strong runner on the ball and his attacking skills have been on the forefront this season. He has taken more shots in the Toulouse team than anyone else except the strikers – while his dribbling defies the fact he is primarily a defender. As well as right-back, he has shown he call fill in at centre-back as well. Still, he has a few disciplinary issues with 11 yellow cards this season and needs to avoid bookings. Aurier featured in Outside of the Boot’s Talent Radar Team of the Season in the 2013-14 Talent Radar Young Player Awards.