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As part of our World Cup coverage, we have interviewed journalists, correspondents, experts & writers representing each of the 32 countries to give you, the readers, a better understanding of the 32 nations participating in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Here are the list of interviewees.
For this interview, focusing on Ivory Coast, we spoke to Neil Greig. He’s an African Football specialist with KickOff and BackPageMedia. Follow him on twitter @NeilGreigSoccer. Check out his football blog as well, neilgregsoccer.wordpress.com
Ivory Coast have been unlucky with extremely difficult groups in the last two World Cups they’ve participated in. With them largely considered as the powerhouses of Africa, how important is it that they get past the group stage, is anything lesser a failure?
Anything less would be a massive failure because they have had a star-studded squad for some time now and the ‘Golden Generation’ of players has come to an end. This is their last shot at World Cup glory. They have also struggled in recent African Nations Cup finals when they were expected to win them and this has added pressure. Yaya Toure has been superb for Manchester City and now he needs the support of his teammates to showcase his ability on the World Cup stage. On paper the Ivorians have the squad and they have the experience. But can they cope with the pressure and expectation?
Ivory Coast have fantastic attacking options, one of the strongest on paper. But they seem comparatively weak in other areas of the pitch. How much of an effect will this imbalance have on their performance and what can be done to overcome it?
I think up front they have always been fantastic, although a few years back both Drogba and Kalou were in their peak. Gervinho is on fire right now but the other two are a little older and slower. Will Wilfried Bony play a bigger role than expected? Maybe so. Midfield with Yaya Toure and Cheick Tiote is firm and they have good back up from the other midfielders. The defence is stable with the experienced Kolo Toure, Arthur Boka and Bamba, but you have to wonder how they will cope now that they are not as quick as before.
Didier Drogba, all-time top scorer for Ivory Coast, remains the key player for the side as he did eight and four years back. Will the pressure to deliver be too overwhelming for the Galatasaray man, or can we expect a memorable Drogba World Cup?
If the team plays to his strengths which would be to use his height, his experience and strength then Drogba will add something. They cannot expect him to be all over the field contributing like he did a few years back.
Yaya Toure is the other key man who is widely regarded as one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the World. But the Manchester City man has has slight injury concerns in the last few months. Can a less than fully fit Toure still maintain the same level of performance? And what effect will this have on the side?
As long as everyone in the Ivorian side does not wait for Yaya to turn on the magic then it will be fine. He is the key man, but they need to protect him from pressure and play around him. Tiote and Zokora’s defensive skills will be key to releasing Yaya to attack. This could see Yaya flourish and carry his club form to Brazil.
It has been suggested that the warmer temperatures in Brazil can have a positive effect on African teams. Can this influence Ivory Coast’s performances? To what extent will this be a factor?
If anything the European teams may struggle a little with the conditions. But the game is so professional these days that this won’t be as big a factor as some would believe. That said, the African teams will be more confident on South American turf and it would help them a little.
We at Outside of the Boot track the progress of youngsters under our Talent Radar feature. Serge Aurier, on the back of a fantastic season will be the first-choice right-back. What are your views on him and his role?
Fantastic young talent. He is set to play a key role and is tipped to start for the Elephants. There is a lot of attention on him right now in terms of his next club transfer so hopefully he will put this aside and focus on his game during the World Cup.
Finally, what can be the ultimate aim for this Ivory Coast side at Brazil?
They will want to make it out of their group as target number one. If they do that then anything can happen in the knockouts. For every African team a semifinal is the target, to take African football one step further than where Ghana ended in South Africa 2010.