AFCON 2013: Group D Focus – Ivory Coast must release the shackles if they are to take continental glory

Although the Ivory Coast did eventually secure victory in their opening game of their quest to bring home the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, thanks to an 88th minute-winner from Arsenal misfit Gervinho, the worrying signs were there that yet again, arguably the most talented group of Ivorian, if not African players, could once more miss out on glory.

Sabri Lamouchi’s men may have just about merited their tight success over Togo but boy, did they ride their luck at times. Indeed, had Emmanuel Adebayor scored when put clean through on goal within the opening minutes, a chance a striker of his calibre will feel should have been taken, then it could have been a different game altogether.

However, as the Elephants prepare to face off against Tunisia, who also claimed victory on matchday one thanks to a late strike against Algeria, it is hard to analyse exactly what the issue is with this Ivorian team.

Certainly, it is not talent. You only have to look at the names of the squad, including a good many of those who did not even make the starting XI, to see the depth of quality at the Ivory Coast’s disposal. The argument is thus of course that it could be a mental problem, a combination of either complacency given the sheer superiority of their squad to the other teams at the tournament, and fear after failing to claim a single tournament success despite being favourites at every edition of the competition since 2006.

Perhaps it is a combination of both or neither but it is certainly a problem that Lamouchi will need to solve quickly if he is to give Didier Drogba the international trophy his career his missing.

Watching the Togo match, it became clear that the former Chelsea striker’s isolation was frustrating him, as Lamouchi elected to partner him with Gervinho, nominally a winger with the rather safe, if unexciting duo of Max Gradel and Didier Ya Konan taking the wide roles.

However, one wonders just how far the Ivory Coast can go if Drogba was given a proper striking partner, such as Anzhi’s impressive Lacina Traore or ex-Chelsea teammate Salomon Kalou. Indeed, given the propensity of opposition defenders to be attracted to the Ivorian captain, space can be left for an out-and-out striker, of which Gervinho, Gradel and Konan, for all their qualities, are not, to impose themselves on matches and give the Elephants a cutting edge, one that may just be the difference between taking home the trophy and yet another disappointment.

The group’s other match sees Togo and Algeria both attempt to get off the mark after coming away from the opening round with nothing to show for rather promising performances. The Sparrow Hawks will certainly hope to see star striker Adebayor to be at his best after disappointing somewhat against the Ivory Coast, while Algeria may just be regretting leaving behind the experience of Rafik Djebbour and Madjid Bougherra after a lack of experience seemed to tell in their late defeat to Tunisia.

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