World Cup: Elephants on a mission

Ivory Coast (above) will expect themselves to emerge from a relatively straightforward group of Colombia, Greece and Japan.

Ivory Coast, Africa's big hope for the last two World Cups, will be hoping it will be third-time lucky for them in Brazil.

The ageing golden generation are staging one last assault to shake off their underachievers tag once and for all.

The worry is that Didier Drogba, 36, Kolo Toure, 33, Didier Zokora, 33, and Yaya Toure, 31 - collectively the continent's brightest of the last decade - have left it too late.

To understand why Ivory Coast have never made it past the World Cup group phase despite possessing the finest talents in their country's history, one must look back at how fate let them down.

In their maiden World Cup appearance, at Germany 2006, they were drawn in the proverbial "Group of Death" - with Argentina, Holland and Serbia and Montenegro.

Their wretched luck carried on to South Africa 2010, where they found themselves in the company of Brazil, Portugal and North Korea.

NO COMPLAINTS

This time around, they can have no complaints. In Brazil, Ivory Coast will expect to emerge from a relatively straightforward group of Colombia, Greece and Japan.

Compared with their last two World Cup assignments, this will feel like a walk in a rose garden.

Drogba still assumes the mantle of team leader, but his prowess is clearly on the wane.

This time, Yaya will carry the hopes of the nation.

And he's a formidable midfield act.

Having just played a key role to help Manchester City to the English Premier League title, Yaya showed beyond doubt he is one of the best attacking midfielders in the game.

He tears into opposing defences with a unique blend of steel and silk.

His lethal feet packs a powerful shot that makes him a danger from near or far, open play or set-pieces.

But it's his uncanny ability to read the minds of defenders, to almost always make the right decision in the tightest of situations, that opponents find hardest to cope with.

Coach Sabri Lamouchi can also count on a younger generation of Ivorians to supplement the charisma and experience of the old guard.

POTENTIAL STARS

Forward Gervinho has just completed a fine league campaign with Serie A side Roma. Another forward, Wilfried Bony, of Swansea, was one of the Premiership's best finds last season. The feisty Cheick Tiote, a Newcastle midfielder, is no stranger to English football fans too.

But, as with many African sides, and especially with Ivory Coast, getting a group of talented individuals to work as a team is the coach's biggest task.

While Ivory Coast were indeed thrown into the deep end on the last two occasions, they were also guilty of sloppy play and putting in uncoordinated efforts on the pitch.

Ghana, four years ago, showed what a difference tactical discipline and team organisation can make, as they fought all the way to the last eight.

Drogba and company have one more shot at righting the wrongs.

If they have learned anything from their experiences in Germany and South Africa, then the Ivorians may well turn out to be the surprise package in Brazil.

garylim@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 9, 2014.
Get The New Paper for more stories.

VIDEOS TO WATCH

SERVICES