It’s hard to remember that for decades upon decades the Ivory Coast was nowhere in terms of World Cup football. Such is the depth and quality of their talent pool today that it’s hard to fathom that they hadn’t even appeared in the tournament until 2006. These days, they’re the power of African football, the highest ranked team on the continent, but they need to advance to the knockout round in Brazil in order to enhance their international reputation.
Goalkeepers: Boubacar Barry (Lokeren), Sylvain Gbohouo (Sewe Sport), Sayouba Mande (Stabaek)
Defenders: Jean-Daniel Akpa Akpro (Toulouse), Serge Aurier (Toulouse), Souleyman Bamba (Trabzonspor), Arthur Boka (VfB Stuttgart), Viera Diarrassouba (Caykur Rizespor), Constant Djakpa (Eintracht Frankfurt), Kolo Toure (Liverpool), Didier Zokora (Trabzonspor)
Midfielders: Geoffroy Serey Die (Basle), Ismael Diomande (St Etienne), Max Gradel (St Etienne), Cheick Tiote (Newcastle United), Yaya Toure (Manchester City), Didier Ya Konan (Hannover 96)
Forwards: Mathis Bolly (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Wilfried Bony (Swansea City), Didier Drogba (Galatasaray), Gervinho (AS Roma), Salomon Kalou (Lille), Giovanni Sio (Basle)
Sabri Lamouchi narrowly missed out on a place in France’s victorious 1998 World Cup campaign but that hasn’t stopped him from bringing a winning mentality to Les Elephants. Lamouchi has proven to be a flexible tactician who is more than willing to switch things up to exploit the opposition.
4-3-3: (GK) Barry – (D) Aurier, K Toure, Zakora, Boka – (M) Y Toure, Serey Die, Ya Konan – (F) Kalou, Gervinho, Drogba
Group B schedule
June 14: vs. Japan in Recife
June 19: vs. Colombia in Brasilia
June 24: vs. Greece in Fortalenza
How they qualified
Les Elephants stayed true to their nickname in their first round of qualifying, stomping the life out of their group with four wins and two draws. The playoff round, however, was a different matter. Drawn against Senegal, the Ivory Coast jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the first match at home—they’d lean on that lead right up until a 94th-minute Solomon Kalou goal secured a second-leg draw and a berth in Brazil.
For all the skill a team can possess, having power and strong individuals can often push a group over the line. It may sound like a cliché, but the Ivory Coast boasts a strong, powerful spine. Didier Drogba and the Toure brothers are no pushovers.
For all their firepower, the Ivory Coast is incredibly gracious to opponents at the back. Kolo Toure, who rarely got a game in 2014, is the most accomplished defender in an inexperienced group. They looked good in qualifying – with a mere five goals conceded – but can expect more of a test from the likes of Colombia and Japan.
Players to watch
Didier Drogba: This World Cup is set to be Drogba’s last major tournament and he’ll be looking to go out in style. He symbolizes Ivory Coast’s lost “golden generation.” At 36, is there enough gas left in the tank?
Yaya Toure: Toure had his best-ever season, scoring 20 goals from midfield and often looking like Manchester City’s best player. He’ll play further up the pitch with his national team and be expected to provide a goal threat. His delivery from set pieces improved dramatically this season.
Wilfried Bony: While Drogba is an international superstar, Bony might actually be the better striker these days. Bony was quietly excellent for Swansea, hitting 16 goals in his debut campaign. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, Bony can be a dangerous player.
Does the defence hold up? Much depends on whether Lamouchi deploys Didier Zokora (who can also play in central midfield) next to Toure at the back. With Colombia and Japan employing a host of silky playmakers, it would be wise to play the pair as Zokoroa’s versatility will serve the Ivory Coast well.
Prospects in Brazil
The Ivory Coast have a terrific chance to get out of their group but their opponents shouldn’t be taken lightly. Even without Radamel Falcao, Colombia is a dangerous team full of quality. Japan is another team that is at the Ivory Coast’s level, so it looks to be a battle between those two nations to see who can come out of Group C alongside Colombia. Time isn’t on the Ivory Coast’s side – it’s now or never for this group. If recent history is anything to go by, it wouldn’t be wise to bet on The Elephants reaching the last 16.
World Cup history
The Ivory Coast will be making their third-straight appearance at the FIFA World Cup – as they qualified for the first time in 2006, and again in 2010. They failed to make it out of the group stage on both occasions, but the draw wasn’t exactly kind to them. In 2006, they were with Argentina and the Netherlands. In 2010, they were with Brazil and Portugal. This year, however, failure simply won’t be tolerated.
• 1930 to 1970—Did not enter
• 1974 to 2002—Did not qualify
• 2006—First round
• 2010—First round
Algeria || Argentina || Australia || Belgium || Bosnia and Herzegovina || Brazil || Cameroon || Chile || Colombia || Costa Rica || Croatia || Ecuador || England || France || Germany || Ghana || Greece || Holland || Honduras || Iran || Italy || Ivory Coast || Japan || Mexico || Nigeria || Portugal || Russia || South Korea || Spain || Switzerland || Uruguay || United States