2014 World Cup Group C team previews: Ivory Coast
Brazil will see Didier Drogba make his final bow for Ivory Coast at a major tournament, but the West African country hope a new generation of strikers can drive them past the first round at the World Cup finals.
The 36-year-old Drogba has been an inspirational figure for his country, leading them to the last two World Cups and five successive African Cup of Nations finals, but he is in the twilight of his career after scoring 61 goals in 99 appearances.
Drogba can no longer be assured of a berth in the starting line-up where the Ivorians can look to Wilfried Bony, Seydou Doumbia or Lacina Traore to lead the attack.
Salomon Kalou and Gervinho provide other options as the dependency on Drogba has dissipated over the past 18 months.
A seamless transition from an ageing generation of charismatic players, including Kolo Toure, brother Yaya and occasional captain Didier Zokora, to a group of emerging talents is what coach Sabri Lamouchi is hoping for in Brazil.
“A team that does not change does not evolve,” he said in a recent Reuters interview.
Lamouchi said the Ivorians had set themselves a goal of advancing past the group stage, with their opponents in Group C being Colombia, Greece and Japan.
“The Ivory Coast have not done this before and after that, once you are in the knockout rounds, there is a feeling that all is possible.”
They have a much better chance than in their two previous tournament appearances. They were eliminated after their first two matches in the 2006 finals in Germany, after going down to Argentina and the Netherlands, before beating Serbia.
In South Africa four years ago they drew against Portugal, lost to Brazil and beat North Korea but found four points not enough to progress.
Their consistent failures in the African Cup of Nations have earned the team a reputation as “chokers”. They developed a habit of cruising through their early matches, before producing one ponderous performance to be eliminated in the knockout rounds.
Twice in the past five tournaments they have lost the Cup of Nations final on penalties.
But with modest ambitions in Brazil, and none of the pressure of being a fancied team, it could prove a successful swansong for Drogba and a successful introduction for players such as Serge Aurier and Bony.
Five to watch:
Yaya Toure, midfielder (Manchester City); Age 30; 80 caps. Powerful hard-running man mountain who has won African Footballer of the Year award for last three years. A product of ASEC Abidjan academy, which has produced more than 20 players who have gone on to play for clubs in Europe, following in footsteps of elder brother Kolo. League winner in Greece in 2006, Spain in 2009 and 2010, and England in 2012 and 2014 plus has cup winners’ medals from four different countries.
Wilfried Bony, striker (Swansea City); Age 25; 24 caps. Product of increasing number of private academies set up across West Africa to develop talent for European market. Had trials at Liverpool but made breakthrough in Europe at Slavia Prague. Made name at Vitesse Arnhem with 36 goals in 36 matches in the 2012/13 season that saw him named Dutch player of the year. Swansea paid club-record 12.0 million pounds (Dh74.3m) for his services last summer and his goals have kept Swansea safe in Premier League.
Didier Drogba, striker (Galatasaray); Age 36; 99 caps. Talismanic presence who is no longer guaranteed berth in starting line-up. Grew up in France after being sent to live with his footballing uncle Michel Goba. Crowned his club career, which includes four FA Cup successes with Chelsea, with the penalty shootout winner in the Champions League final in 2012. A two-times African Footballer of the Year but after seven tournament appearances, yet to win honours at national team level. All-time top scorer with 61 goals.
Cheick Tiote, defensive midfielder (Newcastle United); Age 27; 42 caps. One of Ivory Coast’s most important defensive contributors, was a positive presence in a Newcastle side that went through an otherwise miserable season in racking up 31 appearances, third most for club. Scored his first international goal at the 2013 African Cup of Nations against Nigeria.
Gervinho, striker (AS Roma); Age 26; 51 caps. Heads to World Cup after his best ever season at Roma, vastly improved from his inconsistent days at Arsenal. Portuguese-style nickname comes from first name Gervais, the rest of his name is Yao Kouassi. Moved to Beveren in Belgium in 2005 followed by stints at Le Mans and Lille, who sold him to Arsenal.
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Published: May 22, 2014 04:00 AM