Wherever you looked before the Africa Cup of Nations began, whoever you spoke to, the Cote d’Ivoire were heralded and proclaimed as the champions-elect of this year’s competition.
Sure, there were doubts about their nerve when the pressure was really on. Of course, there were gentle questions about whether their ‘Golden Generation’ were still young enough to have one final go at Africa’s premier competition.
But a cursory glance at their team sheet was enough to convince even the most sceptical of observers that the CIV were in this for the long run, and would be competing in this tournament right to the death.
When asked on a radio show the other night whether there had been a standout team in this tournament, I couldn’t positively affirm that there had been.
Sure, the Ivory Coast had hit the ground running in their opening game by beating Togo, but the nature of the victory, and the chances afforded to the Sparrow Hawks, had left doubts about the Ivorians.
Today, they beat Tunisia—not just beat them, in fact, but won 3-0—in the light of the cagey football and the underwhelming scorelines that have dominated this tournament, a victory by three goals is a veritable demolition.
In truth, however, it was another fairly lacklustre game, and one that struggled to spark into life. The final results masks an Ivorian performance where the Elephants tended to prefer caution to courage, and seemed content—after taking the lead through Gervinho—to merely hold the Tunisians a goal’s length away.
The North Africans rarely troubled, and as they tired late on, Ivory Coast utilized some of the wealth of their squad—bringing on Didier Ya Konan, who scored a classy late goal, and Didier Drogba, whose sheer presence is capable of lifting a team to put the contest beyond doubt.
Some of their options may be frightening, but beyond the magnificent talent of Yaya Toure, and the sprightly performances of Gervinho, Ivorian dominance has belonged more among the words of journals and the whisperings of fans, rather than on the turf of South Africa.
With qualification for the Quarter Finals secured, perhaps the CIV can now relax and the individuals concerned can begin to demonstrate the composure and ability that have made them household names across Europe.
Until that day, until a more convincing and impassioned display of their force and elegance, I am hesitant to proclaim the Elephants as the continent’s next champions.