29 January 2013

Tunisia/Cote d'Ivoire: Ivory Coast Will Take Some Stopping

Photo: Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix
Ivorian star Didier Drogba, seen scoring in 2012, provided a reminder of his prowess when he helped his side come back from behind by scoring one of their two goals.

Tunisia is supposed to be a giant in African football. But the 0-3 humiliation they suffered against Africa Cup of Nations favourites, Ivory Coast, on Saturday was surely very demeaning for the 2004 champions.

But in equal measure, it was a result that sent out a statement about Ivory Coast's intentions to undo last year's mishap in the penalty shoot-out against Zambia, despite being the best side in the tournament. Although Ivory Coast tied with Zambia on nine goals scored then, they didn't concede a goal, yet Zambia conceded three.

And they are still looking imperious. Forget the fact that they conceded a goal against Togo, the defence led by Sol Bamba is playing solidly and taking no prisoners.

The midfield of Yaya Toure, Cheick Tiote and Didier Zokora, who now calls himself Maestro going by the name on the back of his shirt, is so ruthless and closing out most spaces through which opponents could run to reach their defence.

They have not stopped at that. They have forced the issue in the final third with Yaya being ever present to finish off chances. Gervinho is looking so different from the one who fluffs chances at Arsenal. The new spring in him should be a sign of good things to come. On this generation's fifth time of asking, unlike in the past, where self-aggrandisement among some individuals was palpable, Ivory Coast has looked more mellow and respectful to the cup.

The cup chooses where it wants to go and this business of feeling more deserving than anyone else doesn't cut it. One has to work from start to finish to earn it. Besides that, the less reliant on Didier Drogba Ivory Coast has become, the bigger opportunity it has provided for the towering 22-year-old forward Lacina Traore to put in a shift.

With less pressure being placed on a few individuals like Drogba, there are higher chances for a team to perform with equal responsibility. While Drogba's penalty miss last year just under 70 minutes deflated Ivory Coast, the fact that they have gone through such gut-wrenching more times than anyone else means that they are better prepared to recover from such situations.

In a nutshell, this Ivory Coast team is too good to go out without a mark. Strikers Joel Tiehi and Abdoulaye Traore together with the great goalkeeper Alain Gouamene were part of the successful 1992 team. In 1994, they were joined by other tantalising youngsters like Michel Bassole and Tchiressoua Guel but they still can't compare to this lot in terms of team depth and balance.

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