This is The Elephants third World Cup in a row and the easiest draw they’ve had so far, which could mean a first visit to the knockout stage. Here are 10 things you need to know about the Ivory Coast soccer team:
When Frenchman Sabri Lamouchi took the job in 2012, he had no previous managerial experience. This was hard to swallow for an Ivorian public: a foreign rookie best known for wearing crisp suits and being one of the last cut from the French national team that won it all in 1998 was now in charge of their beloved Elephants. A quarter-final exit in the Africa Cup of Nations in 2013 did little to quell the furor. The Federation Ivoirienne de Football stayed the course, however, and Lamouchi rewarded them by qualifying for World Cup 2014. If all goes wrong, he’ll soon be looking for his second managerial job.
On paper, the team should score goals aplenty and at times it has shown flashes of brilliant, offensive swagger, as with a 6-2 two-legged demolition of Senegal in 2012 triggered riots and small fires amongst the Senegalese crowd. But this team has drawn criticism for its cagey defensive tactics, especially given the firepower available via Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure. Worth noting: Ivory Coast is a big, strong and fast team, unlikely to be bullied or outpaced. Expect meaty tackles.
Easily the most underrated goalkeeper at the World Cup this summer. Copa has quietly been doing very well in the Belgium Pro League with Lokeren. I don’t think I’ve ever been impressed with a goalkeeper after giving up five goals in a match. His technique is a little gaudy with his hands taking such a huge swing behind his body as they come forward but his athleticism typically covers it up. He’s clearly improved since the last cycle but I think others will write him off for playing in Belgium. Crosses could be an issue for him by getting lost in the crowd, but I’d watch for him to impress the doubters and perhaps surprise Greece or Colombia.
Kolo Toure. His best days may be behind him, but the Liverpool centre-half brings experience to a side that is known for its stingy defense. The Elephants posted three shutouts during qualifying. Toure’s decision-making may have befuddled at times during Liverpool’s most recent campaign, but he is still a tough, physical presence who tackles well and has aerial ability.
Yaya Toure (brother of Kolo) is, simply put, one of the best players on the planet. Coming off a superlative season for English champions Manchester City, Toure is versatile, dynamic and rangy. His sublime decision-making wreaks havoc; he scored 20 goals in league play last year.
Ah, Didier Drogba. A national hero who has streets, stadiums and beer named after him, Drogba is still leading the Elephants’ attack. His age—he’s 36—has not dulled his power or goal-poaching ability. In what is undoubtedly his last World Cup, he will be looking to make an impression. Drogba is far from the team’s only attacking option; Wilfried Bony scored 16 goals in league play for Swansea City this year.
The failures nation’s golden generation have been crushing. Despite being stacked with talented players who excel in some of the best \leagues in Europe, the Elephants’ trophy cupboard is surprisingly bare. They have failed to advance from their group in the two previous World Cups and haven’t won the Africa Cup of Nations since 1992. The pressure is on to win and win now.
In 2005, the team stopped a civil war. This is not hyperbole. After the team qualified for the 2006 World Cup, Didier Drogba implored both sides of the conflict to lay down their arms. A ceasefire followed within days. In the Ivory Coast, football succeeded where politics failed. A second Ivorian Civil War briefly broke out in 2011, but is now ended.
Unlike in 2006 and 2010, when the Ivory Coast was cast in the Group of Death, the Elephants have a group bereft of traditional footballing powers. Matchups against Greece, Colombia and Japan bode well for the side, which will be expecting to reach the round of 16 for the first time in its history.