Saturday, 14 June 2014

Third Time Lucky for The Elephants?

The Ivory Coast is probably the African team littered with the most well known stars in England; most notably Premier League champion, Yaya Toure and former Chelsea striker, Didier Drogba. With no less than eight of the 23 man squad having played in the – self proclaimed – Greatest League in the World.

But you have to wonder if the 23 individuals will make a good enough team to compete at the World Cup; especially with a group consisting of Colombia, Japan and Greece.

While it may not be the most attractive group in terms of popular countries – hipsters excluded, all three have enough about them to get out of the group and none will be easy for any team to overcome in the heat and humidity of Brazil.

It hasn't been the most plain-sailing start for the nation, with Yaya Toure spending – too much time, in my opinion – touting himself around to all and sundry when he should be concentrating on helping his country become the first African nation to win a World Cup. There was also Kolo Toure picking up a bout of malaria before they travelled to Brazil, though he should be good to go now.

So far this tournament we've seen an enjoyable lack of caution from teams, with everyone going all out for the win since that first whistle blew on Thursday night in Sao Paolo. But if they are to be successful during this tournament won't just be about about Yaya Toure galloping through the field like he does for Manchester City. This World Cup will be about the young players staking their claim as the future of the nation and as the fresh spine of the future team.

Let's be honest; it is very unlikely we will see Drogba, Didier Zokora or goalkeeper, Boubacar Barry at another World Cup – unless they're all drinking what Ryan Giggs drinks. At 36, 33 and 34 years old respectively they will admit they are in the twilight of their playing career. Yes, they will be missed but their fans shouldn't feel too nervous about some of their replacements.

Serge Aurier, the defender who ply's his trade in France with Toulouse has received rave reviews during qualifying and at just 21; he is expected to have a long career ahead of him that will probably see him marshalling The Elephants defence.

While a guy we all know and love – and who is looking for a move from Swansea. Come on Arsene! – Wilfred Bony. A brilliant first season in the Premier League, where he really found his momentum in the last three months. And who better for him to learn from than the lively Drogba? The manager may choose to go for the more known face of Solamon Kalou, but I would not be surprised to see Bony come on in the later stages of the game and making the difference.

And although he's not the youngest or least experienced player, let us not forget midfield enforcer, tackler and all-round angry man; Cheik Tiote. After a difficult and disappointing season with Newcastle United, he may feel he has a lot to prove. Alongside the elegance of Yaya Toure, he may be forced to do the so-called: dirty work but he is more than capable of putting in a shift for his country.

The wait for an African nation to lift the Jules Rimet trophy has been long, but given the progression and achievements of their players it is not absurd to think that The Elephants could be the first to do so. Pace, strength, goals and experience isn't a bad combination in a knock-out competition; especially as they won't be fazed by the heat of South America.

Sabri Lamouchi has a lot to work with, and I will not be surprised to see him lead the country out of the group stages for the first time in their history. And if they do, that England link may be vital as they could well face the Three Lions in the second round...

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