The Ivory Coast heads to South Africa amidst a cloud of lofty expectations. Being placed in with Brazil and Portugal in Group G will be incredibly difficult, but the Ivorians represent the best chance for an African nation to advance past the group stage, and contend for the title. Recently, injury concerns have affected the Ivory Coast’s best player, Chelsea star Didier Drogba, who has been reported to have suffered a broken right arm during a tune-up match and is listed as ‘highly doubtful’ for the 2010 World Cup.
Drogba’s injury is a huge concern for an Ivory Coast side expecting to do well in South Africa. He is their leader, their best player, and is a world-class finisher up front, and without Drogba, they will be devoid of their pure finisher at the striker position. Additionally, the star forward is revered as a hero in his nation and in all of Africa for his work in instigating peace. Following their qualification for the World Cup, Drogba pleaded with his country’s factions to cease their fighting. Within a week, the battles were over, showing the great presence Drogba is and how much his entire country will miss him.
That said, the World Cup will march on for a proud nation in the Ivory Coast who have recently emerged as one of the top sides in the world. They will enter South Africa ranked 25th in the world, a far cry from their placing of 75th in 2004. Germany 2006 was the nation’s first ever World Cup showing in a situation eerily similar to the one they find themselves in this time around. The Elephants of the Ivory Coast were forced to face perennial powerhouses Argentina and the Netherlands, and also combat a strong Serbia side. They suffered two narrow defeats to both Argentina and Netherlands, before capping their tournament off with a win against Serbia. In South Africa, the Ivory Coast will look to handle another tough situation with added confidence and give their 20 million supporters something to cheer about.
Qualifying for this year’s World Cup was essentially a cakewalk for the Ivory Coast. They finished first in their group and went undefeated in six matches, scoring an impressive nineteen goals in the process. The Elephants also partook in the Africa Cup of Nations in early 2010, suffering a shock exit in the quarter-finals against Algeria, and will look to avenge this defeat in South Africa. Recently they defeated Japan with relative ease by a score of 2-0 but would surely have traded in that victory for a healthy Drogba, who was injured during this match.
Heading into the 2010 World Cup, the Ivory Coast made a stunning substitution at the head coaching position, replacing Vahid Halilhodzic, and replacing him with former England boss Sven Goran Eriksson. He jumped at the opportunity to lead this talented side in South Africa, and will look to mend his tarnished reputation. Eriksson will likely employ an attacking 4-4-2 formation playing to the great attacking prowess his side will possess. Despite losing the irreplaceable Dider Drogba, the Ivorians have a surplus of quality strikers in Marseille’s Bakary Kone, and Chelsea’s Salomon Kalou. They remain incredibly tough in the midfield with world-class ball winners, who will be imperative in remaining on the attack. Dider Zokoara and Yaya Toure are two of the best defensive midfielders in the sport and will be integral in shutting down the likes of Kaka from Brazil and Ronaldo of Portugal. One player who must step up in the absence of Drogba will be 23-year-old Gervinho. Playing in an attacking midfield role, he will be counted upon to provide a decent supply line for his strikers while also chipping in with some offense of his own. He plays with power and exceptional pace, and will be needed to produce some goals in South Africa, or else it could be another early World Cup exit for the Ivorians.
For all of their great players and quality in the attack, the Ivory Coast will be weak along the left side of the pitch with several options having been tried but no permanent solution found. Arthur Boka and Siaka Tiene have struggled at the left-back position, and could easily be exposed by the dynamic talents of their opponents. They will also have to familiarize themselves with their new head coach as his recent promotion in February hasn’t given the Elephants much time to acclimatize themselves with the style the Swedish boss will look to play. Additionally, it will be intriguing to see who steps up in a leadership role in wake of losing Drogba. The Ivory Coast side has been known to fight amongst each other throughout their qualifying campaign, and a strong presence will be vital to rid the team of its negative aura and focus on advancing in their tough ‘Group of Death’ draw.
Although the Ivory Coast is probably one of the top sixteen sides that will perform in South Africa, unfortunately they will not be among the top-two in their group. Being placed alongside both Portugal and Brazil leaves little margin of error for an Ivory Coast side playing without their captain and best player. The key match in their campaign will be the opener on June 15th against Portugal. If they can escape with a surprise three points it could set the tone for what may be a magical tournament, however if they’re defeated, it will be an uphill battle for the remainder of the competition. I expect the Elephants to play exciting soccer, effectively displaying their speed and strength on all areas of the pitch. They will be competitive against their world-class adversaries, although just like at Germany in 2006, end up just a little bit short.
Ivory Coast World Cup Prediction: First-Round Exit (3rd Place in Group G)
Did you know you can Bet World Cup 2010 Online?