Belgium v Ivory Coast Preview

IvoryCoast Increasingly, younger players are being called up as the Ivory Coast squad as a keener eye is cast on diluting the drip-drip effect of senescence and, with an eye on the medium-long term, effervescence is sprinkled. Sabri Lamouchi has picked a 27-man strong squad for this game, giving little away about the identity of his final 23-man World Cup squad; with the only definite being that, barring a miracle, Emmanuel Eboue won't be at the World Cup, unless under punditry capacity.

With the leaky right-side somewhat fixed with the Serges of Aurier, Lamouchi has started renovation on the left side. He expressed concerns in January about the left-back position, and it’s fair to say that the quest to find a suitable, soothing candidate is an ongoing mission which may never reach a satisfactory conclusion by the time of the World Cup.

It is in the left back position, then, where he has picked a superabundance of candidates. The long-running battle of Arthur Boka and Siaka Tiene has been rekindled with the recall of the latter. Jean-Daniel Akpa Akpro is uncapped but has a wonderful name, is an extremely good dancer, and is perhaps the long-term solution. Most notably, though, is the return of Eintracht Frankfurt’s Constant Djakpa, who hasn’t been a constant fixture in the orange jersey for the past 6 years. Now aged 27, he is a man who is at the peak of his game, even if we give him the leeway of African years. Not all of these cradle of left-backs will get game time against Belgium, but for Lamouchi and his side men it’ll be a chance to survey them at close quarters in training and, fingers crossed, decide not to deprive the world and me of Siaka Tiene in a few months’ time.

The injuries to Benjamin Angoua, Sol Bamba and Lacina Traore, as well as Didier Ya Konan still working his way back to full fitness, have opened up space for new faces. There are first call ups for Jean-Michael Seri of Pacos de Ferreira and 20-year-old goalkeeper Sayouba Mande of Stabaek in Norway, while uncapped Ismael Diomande has kept his place in the squad despite the return of the thuggish duo of Serey Die and Cheick Tiote.

That this ageing Ivory Coast team may be overwhelmed when they meet a side ubiquitous with pace – there was certainly a whiff of that in their Afcon quarter-final defeat to Nigeria, when Sunday Mba left Didier Zokora on his heels to flummox Boubacar Barry from range, a manifestation that proved decisive – is logical reasoning due to the mileage in some individuals’ legs.

If we align with that line of thought, this already storied Belgium team, boasting names such as Eden Hazard, Kevin Mirallas and Romelu Lukaku, is perfect opposition.The Red Devils have carried the golden generation tag with them for circa five years now. The 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 were too much too soon, but their entrance into the upcoming World Cup has dragged the Dark Horse tag with it.

With friendlies against the unbalanced Bosnia and El Salvador lined up in may, this promises to be the stiffest pre-tournament interrogation that the Ivorians will face in the prelude the World Cup. “I am sure we will have many more lessons against a team such as Belgium instead of playing a team where we can have total control of the game and scoring six goals,” told the press on Monday. Many of the nagging questions which have made Lamouchi eat his rice far slower than usual could very well be answered.

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