Ivory Coast’s hopes of qualifying for the last 16 in the World Cup lie in tatters after a crushing 3-1 defeat to Brazil in Johannesburg. A double by Luis Fabiano, his first international goals since September 2009, and an easy third by Elano put Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side to the sword, who despite a late rally now rely on results going their way to progress to the knockout stages.
Confusingly, Eriksson decided to drop Gervinho, man-of-the-match against Portugal for the returning Didier Drogba, opting to retain the ineffective Salomon Kalou and Aruna Dindane playing wide in a three-man front line. Despite being able to call on his star man from the start, Eriksson’s Ivory Coast showed little improvement on their opening game against Portugal. It wasn’t until Gervinho came on for Dindane on 54 minutes that the Elephants came out to play.
By that point Ivory Coast found themselves 2-0 down, but the Lille striker’s introduction breathed new life into his sides forward momentum, often causing problems for the Brazilian defence and finally offering some assistance to Drogba up front. Drogba had struggled for any joy against the strength of Lucio and Juan in the centre of defence for Brazil but pulled back what could prove to be a crucial late consolation, heading home from Yaya Toure’s long ball over the top.
The first half was another largely defensive display by the Ivories, seeking to absorb Brazilian pressure and snuff out attacks as they did against Portugal, a tactic that saw Drogba often isolated up front as Kalou and Dindane continued to offer frustratingly little. Ivory Coast’s rare ventures forward were often dealt with ease and composure by Brazilian holding midfielders Felipe Melo and Gilberto Silva.
Fabiano broke the deadlock with a clinical strike after some typically flamboyant Brazilian build-up play. Robinho and Fabiano produced a classy one-two with the ball breaking to Kaka after a blocked tackle. The Real Madrid man played a perfectly weighted through ball for Fabiano, who left Kolo Toure trailing in his wake before smashing wonderfully past Boubacar Barry in the Ivory Coast goal.
The game changed with Fabiano’s controversial second, allowed to thump past Barry despite a seemingly clear handball in the build up. Few Ivorians complained to referee Stephane Lannoy about the decision not to penalise the Sevilla striker, as the ball appeared to hit his forearm when the ball fell to him before beating Barry again.
The Brazilians oozed confidence and class at times and threatened to tear into their lacklustre opponents in the final half hour, as Kaka breezed past a couple of defenders to lay the ball on a plate for Elano. Finally Ivory Coast broke their determinedly defensive approach and threatened to give the Brazilians a nervy finish when Drogba scored with 10 minutes remaining, for the Africans first goal in the tournament.
Eriksson reflected on his sides’ performance and admitted his disappointment with their defending for the Brazilian goals; “We conceded a couple of easy goals, although the first goal Brazil scored was very good,” the former England Head Coach said after the game. He also suggested the referee ought to have disallowed Fabiano’s crucial second goal for handball: “We were unlucky with the handballs. The referee didn’t see it, it shouldn’t have been allowed.”
Eriksson’s men will now need to sit and wait for the result of Portgual’s clash with North Korea, in order to know what they in turn require against the Koreans in Nelspruit on Friday. Victory for the Portuguese would leave the Ivorians relying on beating North Korea handsomely and also needing Brazil to beat their rivals for second spot, which could go down to goal difference or even the drawing of lots. Knowing they will certainly require victory to progress should hopefully persuade Eriksson to ditch his cautious approach and attack the Koreans from the start. A decision on whether to persist with 4-3-3 and two relatively unproductive forwards in Kalou and Dindane over the exciting Gervinho will need to be made. Drogba may be back but he will require much better assistance getting forward and an improvement in the standard of service he receives, as despite Eriksson’s previous assurances, Ivory Coast do appear far too reliant upon the inspiration of the Chelsea striker.