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Ivory Coast: Plugging ‘Leeks’ with a Swede’s 4-3-3?

June 4, 2010

The Ivory Coast or Côte d’Ivoire, are touted as one of Africa’s top teams, and have a huge array of talent within their squad. They are also perennial underachievers, whose manager Vahid Halilhodžić was sacked after a late defeat to Algeria in the African Cup of Nations Quarter final in January. Winning 2-1 with seconds left, Algeria scored to make it 2-2 and then scored in extra time to take them through, which was actually Halilhodžić’s first defeat in a competitive game since he took over in 2008. The FIF President Jacques Anouma replaced Halilhodžić with Sven-Göran Eriksson in March, a name familiar to many fans around the world.

Eriksson was the second choice after Guus Hiddink, who chose Turkey instead, even after personal pleas from Didier Drogba, who won the FA Cup under Hiddink at Chelsea in 2009. The team was error strewn and leaderless in their game against South Korea in March, when they were desperate to get Hiddink.

The late appointment means that Eriksson and Grip have had just 3 months to organise themselves and decide how to approach the World Cup, and only had their first Ivory Coast game on May 31st. Most of the team didn’t even meet him until a few days before the Paraguay match.

Not only this, but they have been drawn in the so-called Group of Death, with Brazil, Portugal and North Korea. In 2006 they were also in the Group of Death, and managed to score in every group game, but they won only one against Serbia and Montenegro, losing 2-1 to Holland and Argentina. This time around the group is no kinder.

The disappointing showing of the golden generation of the Ivory Coast, with world stars such as Drogba, Gervinho and the Toure brothers is a puzzling situation for many. According to Eriksson there is a feeling within the team that they can do better, but the team needs to play as one, and not as individuals. This is a classic example of individual talent lacking the framework of team spirit.

Tactics: An Unknown Quantity

Tactics under Halilhodžić fluctuated, but he mostly favoured a 4-3-3, with wide men putting crosses into the box. The fact that Eriksson has had so little time means that his precise plans are not apparent. 4-4-2 is the standard for Sven, but in his first friendly against Paraguay the formation and line-up, though experimental, resembled the 4-3-3. Drogba played as the central striker, and two wide men up front, with three midfielders in the centre. At the World Cup expect this formation but with a more orthodox line up.

Line-Up Vs. Paraguay – 4-3-3

’46 Gervinho for Kalou
’46 Eboue for Gosso
’46 Bamba for K. Toure
’46 Fae for Romaric
’62 Doumbia for Drogba
’70 Keita for Dindane

Against Paraguay the same defensive problems were apparent. Ivory Coast drew the game 2-2, allowing Paraguay to score two goals in the last 17 minutes of the game. The coach is different, but the defensive lapses remain. The defence needs much more solid organisation to prevent players losing their man.

During the game the team put together short fast passes, and pressed well when they lost possession. The goals came from set pieces; a Drogba freekick and then a Bamba tap-in at the back post from a freekick.

The main use of the friendly was to test out the players and formation, so don’t take too much from the players who started. The Japan game will allow Eriksson another chance to test his team.

The First Choice – 4-3-3

At the Back ‘keeper Boubacar Barry is a possible weakness, and the defence has been problematic. Organisation is the main problem, as well as a tendency for the full backs to shirk their defensive duties.Toure and Bamba should play central defence, and provide some solidity.

Eboue can play anywhere on the right, but he looks most likely to start as the right back, whilst Tiene who started as left back in the ACN will be there again this time round.
Zokora and Yaya are key players in central midfield, and players like Tiote and Romaric also play here, combining physical strength and skill. Indeed Tiote has had a fantastic season lifting the Eredivisie title with FC Twente in Holland. Tiote and Yaya can get forward and set up attacks with ease, and Romaric is also used as a playmaker for his club Sevilla.

Drogba leads the strikeforce and can take ball to feet, in the air, hold it up for support, as well as head in crosses from the flanks. Kalou and Gervinho should be favourites to start in the wide positions, both are skilful players who can cut inside, and provide a good range of attacking options.

Edit: Drogba’s injury against Japan is devastating, and will require a rethink on Sven’s part.

The central midfielders get forward to support attacks, but cover when moving back, whilst the left and right backs like to push forward. The wide men of the front three have the ability to cut in, and play as more orthodox strikers, or to go out wide and put the crosses in. The team game is based on passing and powerful running.


The team possesses lots of attacking potential, but can be exposed in defence as against Algeria, and there are question marks over the quality of the goalkeeper Barry. There is a great need for Sven to knit these individuals into a team which plays to the high standards it is capable of. Sven may not be able to do this, his man management skills are not renowned, and this is a squad with some large personalities.

A well drilled defence is required as a solid base for the Ivory Coast to make progress, but in the short time Eriksson has with the players this is also unlikely, Japan is only his second game with the players. If you rely on the Soccernomics predictions then they aren’t really going places in this competition, low GDP and low experience; 2006 was their first final.

In short, a good squad with bags of talent, who will provide some exciting moments, but may not fulfil their potential. The friendly against Japan tonight should cast more light on Sven’s decisions.

A post by James Gillespie

Update: The Ivory Coast beat Japan 2-0, but key striker Drogba may have fractured his elbow. If the initial assessment is confirmed it will be a massive blow to the team.

Ivory Coast Final Squad
Goalkeepers: Boubacar Barry Lokeren (BEL), Aristide Zogbo Maccabi Netanya (ISR), Daniel Yeboah ASEC Mimosas (CIV)

Defenders: Kolo Toure Manchester City (ENG), Emmanuel Eboue Arsenal (ENG), Guy Demel SV Hamburg (GER), Souleman Bamba Hibernian (SCO), Benjamin Angoua Brou Valenciennes (FRA), Arthur Boka VfB Stuttgart (GER), Siaka Tiene Valenciennes (FRA), Steve Gohouri Wigan Athletic (ENG)

Midfielders: Yaya Toure Barcelona (ESP), Didier Zokora Sevilla (ESP), Emmanuel Kone Curtea Arges (ROM), Cheik Ismael Tiote FC Twente (NED), Jean-Jacques Gosso Gosso Monaco (FRA), Romaric N’dri Koffi Sevilla (ESP)

Strikers: Didier Drogba Chelsea (ENG), Salomon Kalou Chelsea (ENG), Kader Keita Galatasaray (TUR), Aruna Dindane Portsmouth (ENG), Gervinho Lille (FRA), Seydou Doumbia Young Boys (SUI)

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