Weak members of the herd leave Les Elephants ready to be exploited
The defence is a colossal shame, as it can take a lot of the blame for Ivory Coast not forming dynasty-levels of dominance in African football
Much like ageing war veterans, members of the Ivory Coast national team have justification to be diagnosed with PTSD. Constant, repetitive disappointments, with the battle on the football pitch defeating them in ever more harrowing ways and in incredulous circumstances, it has left them mentally traumatized for the experience. Except, rather than PTSD standing for post-traumatic stress disorder, in Ivory Coast's case it stands for post-tournament stress disorder.
If it wasn't a bit ridiculous before, it certainly is after the World Cup in Brazil. After years of being the nearly-men, clearly being the better team at a number of the Africa Cup of Nations, the world found a new, global way to take Les Elephants down in the most painful way possible.
Whilst it didn't trump the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations for trauma, as they blasted their way to the final on a wave of free-scoring, opposition-battering superiority, only to miss the landing at the shores of victory through a calamitous penalty shoot out, the way they went out of the World Cup wasn't far off. They may not have been as convincing during their performance on the world stage as they had done at previous AFCONs, but a 2-1 win over Japan and sterling effort in a loss to the impressive Colombians meant that a draw against Greece was all that was needed to advance to the knockout stages. But only if it were that simple.
Going 1-0 down, a second half Wilfried Bony goal levelled it up, and as the clock ticked down to the final seconds, it looked as if they had done it. But remember, things are never tat simple for the Ivorians.
Giovanni Sio, in what essentially was his only ever contribution to his brief time in an Ivory Coast shirt, conceded a late, late penalty, which Giorgios Samaras promptly dispatched and sent Les Elephants into despair. Another tournament failure in the most ignominious of circumstances.
The general line amongst most people was that, once again, they only had themselves to blame. Defensive naivety had seen them struck down, as their most obvious of problems continued to go unsolved, and one that continues to the modern day. Whilst Sabri Lamouchi's post-World Cup exit saw Giovanni Trapatoni linked with the job, with the prospect of some proper defensive drilling the silver lining amongst what would undoubtedly be some horrific football under the Italian, before it was eventually given to Herve Renard – the man who crushed them in the 2012 final.
The defence is a colossal shame, as it can take a lot of the blame for Ivory Coast not forming dynasty-levels of dominance in African football. Their attack has always been magnificent, with Gervinho and Salomon Kalou successfully flanking previously Didier Drogba and now Wilfried Bony, with the gracious Yaya Toure sitting behind them – having just won his fourth consecutive African Player of the Year award. They proved in qualification once again that things haven't changed, with the 13 goals scored in six games showing their attack is as sharp as ever, whilst the 11 goals conceded at the other end showing that their defence is as blunt as ever.
As ever, in Equatorial Guinea it will be a question of whether the Ivory Coast frontline can hit the back of the net more than the backline allows the ball to hit their own. Personnel haven't really changed since the World Cup, with Didier Zokora being the major departure from the starting line-up through retirement, whilst Didier Drogba's international retirement removes the evident aurora and invaluable influence he had when playing for his country.
Whilst the “golden generation's last chance” headlines have been carted out for the third tournament running, their isn't by any means the same belief they can go all the way as their has been In the past, as the successive traumas forming to form a cloud of despair hanging over the Ivorians.
The draw for AFCON 2015 hasn't done anything to improve these prospects. Put in with Cameroon – who smashed them 4-1 in Yaounde during qualifying - an awkward Mali side and a difficult to predict Guinea team, quite how they'll fair in unclear. They should get out of the group, but even then they are likely to be put up against a team from the Group of Death, creating the very distinct possibility that they may not even make it to the semi-finals.
Herve Renard has quite a job on his hands. His moulded his 2012 Zambia team around the historical troubles of previous national side, in memory of the plane crash carrying the Zambian team in Gabon in 1993, which carried them all the way through to victory. Whether he can exhibit his capacity for the mental coaching of his side again will go a long way to deciding what dent Ivory Coast can make in this tournament.
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