Ivory Coast were outmuscled, outthought and outplayed by Colombia in Brasilia
An underwhelming display by Ivory Coast against Colombia, and a bore draw for Japan and Greece in the late game, leaves Les Elephants needing to win their final game to make sure of their place in the knockout stages. Though it was always going to be an uphill task against a talented Colombian side, the flat Ivorian performance for most of the match will raise question marks over whether or not they can beat a resilient Greek team, who held on against the Samurai Blue despite going down to ten men in the first half.
Though it remained 0-0 until the 64th minute, it was clear from the early stages that Colombia were the superior side. James Rodriguez was able to pull the strings from midfield, and Cheick Tiote and Serey Die were not able to effectively shut him down. On several occasions Ivorian hopes rested on the shoulders of Didier Zokora and Sol Bamba, who dug the team out of a number of holes with some superb defending. Considering the defence was supposed to be Ivory Coast’s weak point coming into this tournament, they held on well.
However, at the other end, the story was somewhat different. The parallels were there with the performance against Japan – despite replacing the disappointing Salomon Kalou with St Etienne’s Max Gradel, the four Ivorian attackers played like strangers. Bony was again isolated, Yaya Toure again looked tired, Gervinho was at his most frustrating and couldn’t get into the game, and Gradel was just as poor as Kalou had been, if not worse. Whatever chances they did create (and there were few), they wasted them.
The coup de grace came when Rodriguez and substitute Juan Quintero (who had replaced the ineffective Victor Ibarbo) fired in two goals in the space of six minutes, the first being a wonderful header from a corner, and the second coming after Rodriguez stole the ball from Die in midfield and found Teo Gutierrez, who played in Quintero for a simple finish. You could hardly say that Colombia didn’t deserve it.
It had already taken Lamouchi an hour to change it. As against Japan, he brought Drogba on after an hour, seven minutes before Rodriguez’s opener. But this time, it was a straight swap – Bony made way, with the captain taking his place as the loan front man.
It thus took until more changes were made after Colombia’s goals for there to be a noticeable change in the way Ivory Coast were attacking, with Kalou replacing Gradel (a change that was well overdue) after the first goal, and the more attacking midfielder Mattis Bolly replacing Die after the second.
It was only after this that Ivory Coast started playing with the intensity of the second half against Japan, and immediately hit back with a glorious goal from Gervinho, who cut in from the left, jinked past several defenders and squeezed the ball past David Ospina at the near post. It was a glimpse into the enormous talent of the winger, who has often underwhelmed in major tournaments. But the fact that it was a moment of individual brilliance sums up the Ivorian attack. It is a cliché and a simplification, but regardless of the substitutions, they attacked as individuals, not as a team.
And the concern is Ivory Coast now face a team notorious for its defensive solidity, something they demonstrated well later that evening. Greece have a habit of striking when they are written off, including their come-from-behind victory against Nigeria in 2010, their surprise win over Russia in Euro 2012 which eliminated the dark horses and won them a shock quarter-final berth, and, of course, their remarkable triumph in Euro 2004.
To add insult to injury, Kolo and Yaya Toure’s younger brother Ibrahim died yesterday at the age of 28 after suffering from cancer. It is another cruel blow to the squad, who now have to lift themselves for what is effectively a knockout match – if they lose, they are out of the World Cup once again, and even a draw might not be enough. And this time, there will be no more chances after this. This is the final showdown.
Boubacar Barry: 3/5 – A typical Barry display from one of the most dependable African keepers
Serge Aurier: 4/5 – Another promising display from the youngster as the most likely source of attacking threat
Didier Zokora: 4/5 – A solid display, marred only by the needless yellow card he picked up which will rule him out of the Greece match
Sol Bamba: 3/5 – Played his way out of trouble well on one occasion and good in the air as usual but with typical positional lapses
Arthur Boka: 3/5 – Struggled against the in-form Juan Cuadrado at times, but it wasn’t the horror show it could have been
Serey Die: 2/5 – Got caught in possession by Rodriguez in the build-up to the second goal
Cheick Tiote: 3/5 – Like Die, didn’t control Rodriguez in the way that they needed to and, as usual, had the occasional unsuccessful long range effort
Gervinho: 4/5 – A wonderful bit of individual skill for his second goal of the tournament, but could have done more
Yaya Toure: 2/5 – Another lethargic performance, but it is perhaps excusable in the circumstances
Max Gradel: 1/5 – A poor showing from the former Leeds winger, who will probably find himself back on the sidelines after this
Wilfried Bony: 2/5 – The Swansea striker was once again isolated for much of the game and may also lose his place after this
Didier Drogba: 3/5 – Wasn’t quite as inspirational coming on this time
Salomon Kalou: 3/5 – Well, it would have been hard to be as bad as he was against Japan…
Mathis Bolly: n/a – Not enough time for the speed merchant to make his mark