4 June 2014

Cote d'Ivoire: Ivorians Field Powerful World Cup Squad

Photo: Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix
African Footballer of the Year Yaya Touré will join Cote d'Ivoire's World Cup squad.

In the third AllAfrica profile of Africa's World Cup contenders in Brazil, Nick Said looks at the Ivoirian team. Read his profile of Algeria here, and Cameroon here. Follow Africa's fortunes on our World Cup page and on our dedicated Twitter feed @AllAfricaSport

OVERVIEW

The Ivoirians have been the top-ranked African side for almost two years but have also earned themselves the unfortunate, and unwanted, moniker of "chokers".

It is a reference to their inability to triumph at the last five African Nations Cup finals despite starting each of the tournaments as favourites. They have also reached their third successive World Cup finals but failed in both 2006 and 2010 to get past the first round - in fairness, hampered by difficult draws.

Coach Sabri Lamouchi, who had no formal experience before being appointed in May 2012, has tried to inject new talent into a squad fast approaching its sell-by-date.

But there is still heavy reliance on the likes of 36-year-old Didier Drogba and Didier Zokora, and pressure on reigning African Footballer of the Year Yaya Toure to help lead and develop a new generation of emerging players.

The Ivoirians had a relatively tough qualifying assignment, sharing the same group as Morocco before ousting fellow west African giant Senegal 4-2 on aggregate in the play-off.

Their approach relies a lot on the midfield strength of Toure, the power up front of Drogba and in between the creativity of Gervinho. But their strong point is a powerful squad of players from across the top leagues of Europe.

COACH

Former France international Sabri Lamouchi was a left-field pick for Cote d'Ivoire when they appointed him coach in 2012.

At the time just 40 years old, it was his first foray into coaching, having retired from playing only three years earlier. It is fair to say the jury is still out.

World Cup qualification was an obvious achievement but with the gallery of stars at his disposal, it was also expected. A quarter-final exit at the hands of eventual winners Nigeria at the 2013 African Nations Cup was a big disappointment, as would be a first-round exit in Brazil.

Lamouchi, born in France of Tunisian descent, had a varied playing career that saw him feature for top French clubs Monaco and Marseille, as well as in Italy with Inter Milan, Parma and Genoa. He ended his career in Qatar.

He was also part of the France side that reached the 1996 European Championship semifinals.

FORM

Just one win in their last six matches before Wednesday night's clash with El Salvador does not suggest the Ivoirians have much form, but they have been a bit better than that.

Included in that run is a 4-1 loss to Mexico and a 2-1 reversal at the hands of Bosnia-Herzegovina, but also fine draws away in Belgium and Senegal.

They will need to step it up in Brazil, where their biggest challenge will not be scoring goals, but remaining compact and organized in defence, so often their Achilles heel.

KEY WEAPON

Cote d'Ivoire's attacking threat is not in question and if they can manage to plug the gaps at the back, they have a genuine chance of going very deep into the World Cup with the creative players to be able to break any opponent down.

That is why goalkeeper Boubacar Barry could be crucial to their chances.

If he has a good tournament and can help his pressurized defence, all things are possible for the Ivoirians.

Barry will come under pressure though and will have to use all the experience he gained in two previous World Cup finals appearances and six trips to the African Nations Cup.

GROUP C OPPONENTS

June 14 vs Japan (Recife) - This could prove to be a decisive fixture for the Ivorians, up against what is likely their biggest threat for a place in the top two. Japan are well organized, technically gifted and very fit, but are limited in an attacking sense and The Elephants' greater muscle will be an advantage.

June 19 vs Colombia (Brasilia) - The favourites for the pool, Colombia have been on the up in recent years and even without leading striker Falcao, who misses the World Cup through injury, there is plenty of other attacking verve in the side.

June 24 vs Greece (Fortaleza) - Greece will present a challenge, but man-for-man the Ivorians have more pace, class and physicality. The Greeks tend to be predictable in the way they play and battle for goals, making this a very winnable game for the African side.

Should Cote d'Ivoire make it out of the pool phase, there are some tough opponents waiting for the team in the second round from Group D, which contains Uruguay, England, Italy and Costa Rica.

SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Boubacar Barry (Lokeren), Sylvain Gbohouo (Sewe Sport), Sayouba Mande (Stabaek).

Defenders: Jean-Daniel Akpa Akpro (Toulouse), Serge Aurier (Toulouse), Souleyman Bamba (Trabzonspor), Arthur Boka (VfB Stuttgart), Viera Diarrassouba (Caykur Rizespor), Constant Djakpa (Eintracht Frankfurt), Kolo Toure (Liverpool), Didier Zokora (Trabzonspor).

Midfielders: Geoffroy Serey Die (Basel), Ismael Diomande (St Etienne), Max Gradel (St Etienne), Cheick Tiote (Newcastle United), Yaya Toure (Manchester City), Didier Ya Konan (Hannover 96).

Forwards: Mathis Bolly (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Wilfried Bony (Swansea City), Didier Drogba (Galatasaray), Gervinho (AS Roma), Salomon Kalou (Lille), Giovanni Sio (Basel).

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InFocus

All Things Possible for Ivorians at World Cup

African Footballer of the Year Yaya Touré will join Cote d'Ivoire's World Cup squad.

Cote d'Ivoire's strong point at the World Cup in Brazil is a powerful squad of players from across the top leagues of Europe, including the likes of Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba and ... Read more »