Perhaps the most remarkable thing over the past two days following Ivory Coast’s early World Cup exit is that despite the agony of losing out on a qualification place in the final seconds of the match to a penalty that most see as a refereeing mistake, fans seem to be almost entirely happy to see the result as just. Speaking to Ivorians, the team are going to have to work hard to restore fans’ love for the side.
Ivory Coast were truly awful against Greece. They were so bad that even the most hard core fans seem less to feel bitter at fate snatching a second round place away in the dying moments than flabbergasted at how bad Ivory Coast played. Going into the match, it’s hard to think of a more ideal opportunity to progress in the tournament. All they needed to do was not lose against a low-ranked team that hadn’t yet scored in the tournament.
It was a sorry end to what is sometimes called ‘Generation Drogba’. It’s now time for the country to turn a page and rebuild, though the prospects of future greatest aren’t too obvious. The best three Ivorian players in the World Cup performances were Gervinho, Bony and Serge Aurier. So there is some hope. But Ivory Coast notably have a lot less strength in depth nowadays – a few years back they would field a subs bench that would have been the first team in most African nations. In defence things look most worrying – in four years’ time Kolo, Boka, Zokora and Barry are likely to be in retirement and there aren’t obvious replacements. Yaya Toure might have another World Cup in him, but he’s really disappointed – one of those people heralded as among the world’s very best who have looked rather ordinary on the World Cup stage.
Much of the criticism over the last few days has headed towards coach Sabri Lamouchi. He was never a favourite with the fans. But the players have to take most of the blame – they looked nervous, naïve and lacking inspiration. The central midfield has frequently gone AWOL in the tournament. Still, fans are nostalgic for Francois Zahoui, who nurtured a defence that didn’t concede in the entire 2012 Africa Cup of Nations. Lamouchi’s Ivory Coast always concede bad goals first and then need to claw back something.
But a variety of coaches over the years haven’t yet cracked the puzzle of how to make Ivory Coast seem greater (rather than less) than the sum of its constituent parts. A new coach and someone with a longer period in charge could rebuild, but this team is likely to be less of a threat in the future and qualification for the World Cup in 2018 could be a challenge.