Ivory Coast 3-0 Equatorial Guinea: Ivory Coast reliant on set-pieces and mistakes
The individual quality of Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure proved too much for Equatorial Guinea, but the Ivory Coast are yet to convince.
Ivory Coast coach Francois Zahoui has made plenty of changes to his side in this competition – always in a 4-3-3 shape. He seems keen to utilise his strong squad, and almost every position aside from the goalkeeper and centre-backs has seen rotation.
Gilson Paulo’s selection has been more consistent, though he did change things for the final group game. Here he recalled a couple of players dropped for that defeat to Zambia, and brought in Narcisse Ekanga Amia for his first start.
The Ivory Coast were strong favourites but didn’t play particularly well. They continue to lack creativity from midfield, and their wingers can be wasteful in the final third.
The Ivory Coast were 4-3-3, largely as expected. Yaya Toure started off playing very deep and was often tracked by an opponent, but ventured further forward as the game went on.
The Equatorial Guinea formation was interesting, and difficult to describe in purely numerical terms. Their defence could be defined as either a back three or a back four – when they had the ball, the right-back Kily made very adventurous runs down the right to stretch the play, whereas the left-back Fousseny Kamissoko stayed in position and got himself tight to the three centre-backs. Without the ball, however, Kily dropped in at right-back.
This situation influenced the way Equatorial Guinea played higher up the pitch. Randy, on the left, was like a wing-back but Kily was the only man playing wide on the right. The intelligent ball player Juvenal sat in front of the defence while Konate played as more of a destroyer.
It was difficult to tell what the two attacking midfielders, Ekeda and Ekanga, were supposed to be doing. They basically looked to shut down the Ivory Coast central midfielders without the ball, but their role with the ball was unclear. A couple of times Javier Balboa made runs out to the left and created space for those two to exploit, but on the ball they lacked quality.
The unusual Equatorial Guinea shape impacted on how the Ivory Coast played. For example, Kily’s runs meant that Max Gradel played much deeper than Gervinho (although he naturally plays further away from goal anyway), while the runs towards a similar part of the pitch from Randy, Ekanga and Balboa meant that Kafoumba Coulibaly played out to the right more than he would have liked, and frequently found himself next to Gosso.
Lack of creativity
There wasn’t much promise from the centre of midfield – no-one took the game by the scruff of the neck. Yaya Toure had to retreat too deep, Coulibaly was concerned with his defensive responsibilities and Didier Zokora is hardly a creative player. On the other side, Juvenal wasn’t quite as impressive as in the group stage, and often didn’t have enough attacking options.
Both sides were probably most dangerous down the same side – Equatorial Guinea built up play down the left then switched it to Kily on the right, who was a threat with his crossing. However, his positioning meant that Gradel could break dangerously, while Ekeda moving into the middle meant that Boka was often free to get down the left, and he created a couple of chances when he moved into the final third.
But this was a game simply decided by the better players – the gulf in quality was huge, and Drogba and Toure’s brilliance got the second two goals, after Rui’s terrible mistake let in Drogba for the first.
Those two goals came from set-pieces, though, and in open play they were poor. The Ivory Coast continue to lack a true playmaker – Toure’s job surely needs to be concentrated higher up the pitch where he can drive at the opposition – they have enough tackling ability and strength elsewhere to be comfortable deep in midfield.
The Equatorial Guinea did well – their unusual formation dragged their opponents out of shape, which helped to make the Ivory Coast look slow and clueless in possession.
At the moment the Ivory Coast rely too much on the wide players for attacking drive. They are both excellent at dribbling but not particularly adept passers. Gervinho, in particular, has an amazing tendency to go on a good run then fail to do anything with his final ball.
Here, it didn’t turn out to be costly – but later in the competition it might become clear that the Ivory Coast are weaker than the sum of their parts.