Ivory Coast Camp Focus – Ivories fall at first hurdle again

Ivory Coast bow out of the World Cup with a morale-boosting 3-0 victory over Korea DPR in Nelspruit, the biggest win in their finals participation. They will be left to reflect on what could have been after failing to overcome insurmountable circumstances to force their way into the last 16. At the start of the match, Sven-Goran Eriksson’s men sat in third place, knowing they needed a minor miracle in order to progress. Three points away from Portugal and a place in the knockout stages, the Elephants needed a huge win coupled with a heavy defeat for Portugal against table-topping Brazil as well as a nine-goal swing in their favour to overhaul the Portuguese. Eventually, due to Brazil and Portugal’s 0-0 draw in Durban, any number of goals would have been fruitless for Ivory Coast, as a second consecutive group stage exit was confirmed.

They controlled the match against North Korea throughout, dominating their weak opponents and showing so much more than they offered in their first two matches of the tournament – both disappointing, largely defensive displays against Portugal and Brazil. Eriksson recalled the impressive Gervinho, whose standard of play throughout the World Cup will surely have alerted interest from the scouts of top European sides, and decided against persisting with wide-men Salomon Kalou and Aruna Dindane, both lamentably toothless in the tournament and starting 4-4-2. Ivory Coast could have found the net at least three times before breaking the deadlock after 13 minutes, Yaya Toure’s controlled low finish from Arthur Boka’s pass across the box. In the opening seconds Kedar Keita almost gave his side the perfect start, but couldn’t beat Myong-Guk Ri in the Korean goal from Toure’s through ball. A minute before Toure’s opener Didier Drogba had a goal disallowed for a marginal offside. Soon it was two though as Drogba’s thunderous shot hammered against the crossbar, falling kindly for Romaric to head home.

The stubborn robust defence of North Korea we saw take on Brazil in their opening game was non-existent as they wilted and the Ivorians threatened time and time again. Recalled Gervinho hit the post twice and further chances came and went, but unfortunately for Eriksson his side couldn’t find a third before the break. And despite creating enough goal scoring opportunities to overturn Portugal in the case of defeat to Brazil, Ivory Coast wasted chance after chance, missing the target on numerous occasions and denied by some excellent goalkeeping. It took an hour for them to hit the net again after Romaric’s goal, substitute Kalou converting Boka’s excellent cross, but it proved merely added gloss on a hollow success.

They may have deserved more goals in the game, but unfortunately for Eriksson and his side they will live to regret their failure to perform against qualifiers Brazil and Portugal. A goalless bore draw in the first game against Portugal ensured that goal difference would likely decide the fate of the runner-up in the group behind Brazil. After defeat to Brazil, 3-1 in Johannesburg, Ivory Coast had to sit and watch as Portugal destroyed North Korea 7-0, all but sealing their place as runners-up no matter if beaten in their final game.

Despite brighter substitute performances against North Korea, Kalou and Dindane were poor against the better defenders of Brazil and Portugal, and Ivory Coast will also rue Drogba’s injury in the build-up to the start of the World Cup. Despite breaking his arm in the side’s final preliminary match against Japan on June 4, the Chelsea forward managed to come off the bench against Portugal and start the game with Brazil, finding the net late on. His impact was neutralised by opposing Head Coaches, Carlos Quieroz of Portugal and Brazilian Dunga, by either matching him against burly defending or close attentive markers to reduce the effectiveness of the talismanic centre forward.

Without their star man firing on all cylinders, Ivory Coast were seemingly destined to struggle in the pre-tournament christened ‘Group of Death’. With a strong starting line-up and attacking options aplenty, Eriksson’s men were considered by many to be a dark horse equipped for a run to the latter stages of the tournament. Sadly though, the axe falls on the Elephants as they again failed to live up to their reputation and promising collection of players.

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