Ivory Coast – a solid spine, but weak full-backs and lark of creative spark may be their downfall

February 3, 2010

Bosnian manager Vahid Halilhodzic and Kolo Toure

The Ivory Coast will go into this year’s World Cup as ninth- favourites, the shortest-priced African side to ever go into a World Cup tournament. They play a fairly standard 4-3-3 system, with two wingers happy to rotate, attacking full-backs, and a solid, physical midfield.

Their strength, of course, is Drogba. In the national team he plays a similar role to the one he played at Chelsea under Jose Mourinho – upfront on his own, looking to cause a nuisance and occupy both centre-backs, although the Ivory Coast rarely send long balls towards him, preferring instead to shift the ball wide in order to get crosses in.

The two wide players are happy to swap freely throughout the game, although the side seems most balanced with Kalou on the left, looking to cut in and release the ball, and Gervinho on the right, who is a more direct runner in possession, although the ability for Vahid Halilhodzic to switch them remains a useful tactic many 4-3-3 sides are looking to use.

The midfield features three fairly similar players – strong, powerful midfielders who look for relatively basic passes. Yaya Toure plays a much more dynamic role than he has done for Barcelona since Pep Guardiola took over – he is probably the most offensive-minded of the three in the middle, and will probably be given the task in South Africa of picking up any deep-lying playmakers the opposition possess. Didier Zokora sits in front of the defence playing a calm holding role, whilst Cheik Tiote plays inbetween the two, and is the one player who will occasionally drift wide (to the right) when the Ivory Coast are in possession.

The real weakness is the defensive ability of the full-backs. Emmanuel Eboue remains suspect in terms of his positioning and his discipline, although his surging runs forward constantly provide a useful asset for the midfield players. On the opposite site, Siaka Tiene is a mirror image. Nominally a midfield player, he was a surprise starter in the African Cup of Nations at left-back, ahead of the Stuttgart player Arthur Boka, who is a natural in that position. Especially considering how high up the pitch the two wingers play, it’s fair to say that attacking Eboue and Tiene will be the best bet for opposition sides looking to defeat the Ivory Coast in South Africa – particularly good for Portugal, who are very strong on the flanks. Tiene also packs a fairly impressive left-foot, which will be threatening from set-plays.

The Ivory Coast side continue to be talked up as contenders in South Africa, but they’ll have a  tough task even to make it to the quarter-finals. They’re in a group with Brazil and Portugal, and if they come second in the group, they’ll most likely face Spain in the second round. It’s hard to see them not being passed off the pitch by Brazil and Spain, simply because they lack the technical ability in the midfield area.

The first game against Portugal will be crucial, and will come down to two battles – how well Ricardo Carvalho can shackle his club teammate Drogba, and how effectively Eboue and Tiene can stop Ronaldo/Simao/Quaresma/Nani in the wide areas.

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