The expansion of the World Cup from 16 to 24 teams meant Africa will be sending three teams to Canada this summer—two nations competed in Germany four years ago. The beneficiary of the extra spot is Ivory Coast, who will be making its World Cup debut this summer, eager to show their third-place finish at last year’s African Women’s Championship was no fluke. They’ll have the work cut out in a opening group that includes former World Cup champions Germany and Norway.
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Clementine Toure has packed plenty of personal success into her short managerial career thus far. Toure was part of the coaching staff of Equatorial Guinea in 2008 when it shockingly won the African Women’s Championship on home soil. At last year’s African Championship, she coached Ivory Coast to a third-place finish, helping Les Elephantes qualify for the World Cup for the first time in their history. She said: “We had been waiting for this moment for such a long time.”
GROUP B SCHEDULE
June 7: vs. Germany in Ottawa
June 11: vs. Thailand in Ottawa
June 15: vs. Norway in Moncton
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
Ivory Coast finished in third place at the 8-nation African Women’s Championship staged in Namibia last October. It finished second in its group and then lost to Cameroon in the semifinals. A win over South Africa in the third-place game secured Ivory Coast its first World Cup berth.
Ivory Coast isn’t the most skilled side, but they do find ways to win. A focus on team unity and discipline helped them survive a barraging attack from South Africa in the African Championship and pull out a last minute win and thus qualify for the World Cup. Les Elephantes resiliency and work ethic will serve them will in Canada.
The bulk of the team play their professional football in Ivory Coast—not exactly the highest standard—and only a few ply their trade in Europe. This lack of top level experience underlines the team’s overall lack of quality (compared to other nations). The team relies almost entirely on cohesion rather than individual skill. It also doesn’t help them there in a group with former champions Norway and Germany.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Tia Vino Ines N’Rehy: The 21-year-old forward led her team in scoring at last year’s African Women’s Championship with three goals. She’s also enjoyed success for Serbian club Spartak Subotica in the UEFA Champions League. Noted for her power and clinical finishing.
Can they keep it somewhat respectable against Germany in their opening game? This one has mis-match written all over it, and if the Germans, ranked No. 1 in the world by FIFA, run roughshod and pile up the goals then the Ivorians will have a major hole to dig themselves out of right from the start.
PROSPECTS IN CANADA
Not good. Ivory Coast did very well to get to this point. But as this is their first tournament, and considering their overall lack of genuinely skilled players, it’s hard to envision them advancing to the knockout round—even as a third-place team in a group that includes fellow newcomer Thailand. The Ivorians will be headed home after being given a football lesson from Germany and Norway.
WORLD CUP HISTORY
Ivory Coast has never qualified for the FIFA Women’s World Cup. It will make its tournament debut this summer in Canada.