Ivory Coast 1-0 Mali: Yaya Toure plays higher and the Ivory Coast play better

February 8, 2012

The starting line-ups

Gervinho’s solo goal sets up a final between the Ivory Coast and Zambia.

Francois Zahoui made a couple of changes to the team that overcame Equatorial Guinea in the previous round. Siaka Tiene, Salomon Kalou and Cheick Tiote all returned.

Alain Giresse made changes to his attackers – both Abdou Traore and Modibo Maiga were dropped, with Samba Sow and Cheik Diabate coming in.

Opening stages

The Ivory Coast dominated the opening stages here, keeping the ball better and getting more men forward than in their previous games, making them much more of an attacking threat, both on the break and when Mali had men behind the ball.

The key to this was Yaya Toure, who was deployed high up the pitch as a number ten – sometimes ahead of Gervinho and Kalou – and in close support of Didier Drogba. Although he often picked the wrong pass in the final third, he provided the link between the midfield and the attack, helping to carry the ball and prevent the Ivory Coast becoming a broken team, as they often are when they play three central midfielders all broadly playing a defensive-minded job.

He was also a goal threat himself – he stormed forward to hit the post from the right of the box. This was the second time the Ivory Coast had hit the woodwork, with Drogba having headed against the post from a Tiene free-kick earlier. As they showed in the previous game, the Ivory Coast are particularly dangerous from dead ball situations, though here they weren’t so reliant on that approach.

The below diagram compares the positions Toure received the ball in this match and the game against Equatorial Guinea in the two first halves (because in the previous game he was pushed higher up the pitch at the break).


A lot of teams have depended upon counter-attacks in this tournament. Usually, the superior team dominates possession and the weaker side soak up pressure before breaking. Here, however, Mali played the ball very slowly when they won it and their main approach involved gradual build-up play followed by crosses from wide towards Cheick Diabate. The balls into the box were often high and overhit.

It was actually the Ivory Coast who were the bigger threat on the break, and with Gervinho and Kalou they had two players who loved running with the ball. Gervinho struck just before half-time. He’d looked a threat throughout the game, partly because Ousmane Berthe tried to stick very tight to Drogba – he picked up a booking early on – and left space behind him.


Toure’s involvement has already been covered, but for Mali it was Seydou Keita playing that role. It was notable that he had to keep coming deep to pick up the ball, and therefore wasn’t able to play passes into dangerous zones (although strangely, the pass for Gervinho’s winner was one of Toure’s passes from a deeper position.

It does rather illustrate the difference in creativity between the top sides in Africa and the top sides in Europe – that the two players deployed as creators here were used as much more functional players for Barcelona – Toure as a holder, Keita as an energetic midfield scrapper.

Little change

The problem with the game was that it didn’t really progress tactically. Gieresse took off right-winger Mustapha Yatabare, brought on Gerra Dembele and went to more of a 4-4-2 system, but then Yatabare had been the main player providing crosses, and Mali’s approach looked confused.

The Ivory Coast generally kept their back four and two holders in position and played a very structured game late on. It meant that they were solid and comfortable defensively. Mali were barely a threat, with only one shot on target throughout the game – many were blocked by the Ivory Coast, demonstrating the value of keeping men behind the ball.


Only one real point of interest in an otherwise underwhelming game. Toure played high up the pitch, and the Ivory Coast were a more complete side. They have Zokora and Tiote to sit – Toure must be used as an attacking midfielder to prevent the side becoming compartmentalised instead of cohesive.

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