Cote D'Ivoire: The Golden Generation Can Finally Deliver at the World Cup

Ed Dove@EddydoveContributor IIINovember 8, 2013

RUSTENBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JANUARY 26, Yaya Toure (M) of Ivory Coast celebrates scoring a goal with Didier Drogba and Max Gradel during the 2013 African Cup of Nations match between Ivory Coast and Tunisia at Royal Bafokeng Stadium on January 26, 2013 in Rustenburg, South Africa. (Photo by Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Gallo Images/Getty Images

At the African Cup of Nations earlier this year, it looked like the Cote d'Ivoire's Golden Generation had finally reached the end.

One of the most glorious collections of players in Africa's history had finally arrived at the end of its cycle; it had won nothing.

Back in South Africa, they suffered the ignominy of defeat to local rivals Nigeria. Sunday Mba, an almost-unknown player before the tournament, scored the winning goal to send the Super Eagles through to the semi-final and on course to win their first continental title for almost 20 years.

In one swift swoop a midfielder, who no one knew, looked like he had closed the book on Africa's most famous collection of players. In truth, the defeat had been a long time coming. 

The Elephants' tournament had been a veritable disaster. Ignoring the odd moment of brilliance and a brief spell or two of dominance, the Ivorians' tournament began slowly, lulled in the middle and then ended with a whimper.

They just beat Togo thanks to a late Gervinho winner and their deceiving 3-0 scoreline against Tunisia flattered a performance that had lacked conviction. Then it took a late rally to secure a point against an already-defeated Algeria in Rustenburg.

Speaking on a radio show in the UK early in the tournament, I argued that there was little to separate the Cote d'Ivoire from the rest of the contenders apart from the crude mix of big names, training ground pseudo-relaxation and near-arrogant bravado. 

Failure to conquer Africa at the AFCON was not an isolated disappointment. Despite being perennial favourites for a decade, the Elephants have perfected, to an art form, choking on the big stage.

They were defeated finalists in 2006 and 2012, made the semi-finals in 2008 and were eliminated at the quarter-final stage in 2010 and again this year, thanks to Sunday Mba.

Following their disappointing elimination, it felt like the right time to begin to look towards the future. The celebrated generation that emerged together at the ASEC Academy are almost all approaching the final stages of their careers; Arthur Boka, Copa Barry, Emmanuel Eboue, the Toure brothers, 'Maestro' Zokora, Romaric and Drogba have now all hit 30.

Considering the pessimism that surrounded the team following their AFCON elimination, it wouldn't have been a total surprise had Sabri Lamouchi instigated an enforced cull of the squad's elder statesman.

Now, however, the mood is much brighter.

Since the 2-1 defeat to Nigeria, CIV have impressed. The Gambia and Tanzania may be modest opposition, but both were dispatched with a flourish as progression from their World Cup Qualification group was confirmed.

A friendly defeat to Mexico may have made for uncomfortable viewing, but the Elephants made up for that mishap with an impressive first-leg play-off performance against Senegal at the Stade Felix Houphouet-Boigny in September.

Papiss Cisse's 95th minute goal may have tarnished the result, but Lamouchi and his men will surely be fiercely confident of preserving their two-goal advantage in the second clash later in the month. Unless Senegal stage an unlikely comeback, the Elephants should qualify for their third-consecutive World Cup.

But is there any evidence to suggest that the Cote d'Ivoire can pull up any trees in Brazil next summer?

Memories of their previous voyages to World Cups past have been underwhelming. On both occasions, in Germany in 2006 and in South Africa in 2010, the Elephants were sent packing in the group stage. Their WC record stands at: played six, won two, drawn one, lost three. Not shabby, by any means, but one they will look to improve next summer.

The caveat to their past disappointment has been the incredibly difficult group selections they have found themselves in.

In both 2006 and 2010 they were drawn in the tournament's 'Group of Death'; their first outing saw them joined with Serbia, Holland and Argentina, while in South Africa they faced Brazil, Portugal and North Korea. These draws represent major challenges for any side in the world, let alone one with little international pedigree.

Similarly, talismanic frontman Didier Drogba suffered a broken arm before the 2010 edition and was rushed into action due to the important role within the team. The injury was described by the Telegraph as a "crippling blow" to the Ivorians' chances in South Africa. Drogba played, but was a shadow of his usual self and the collective suffered as a result.

Could their fortunes improve next summer?

Well, I would argue that perhaps now that the gloss has been taken off the "Golden Generation," this collection of players might be at its most dangerous. Lamouchi's elect have been broken down by such consistent failure, and more importantly, their consistent failure to realise the expectations that others have placed upon them. Following the proposed dismissal of the group after the AFCON, the squad now have nothing to lose.

For almost all of them, this will be their final chance to create a legacy within the international arena. Should Drogba still be present, he will be supremely motivated not only to create his own World Cup memories, but also to banish the disappointment of his underwhelming outing in South Africa.

As the Golden Generation reach the end of the road, more new players are being introduced into the squad. This is freshening up the squad's approach, creating greater competition for places and adding a vitality and a verve to the team.

The right-back Serge Aurier has made the position his own and offers an excellent attacking threat as well as defensive composure. 29-year-old Serey Die has also been drafted into the sqaud and has proved capable in a handful of performances to date—the midfielder will surely benefit from his Champions League experiences with Basel this season.

Up front, the likes of Wilfried Bony, Gio Sio and Lacina Traore are also champing at the bit to earn a starting berth. While none of the three will be too optimistic about usurping Drogba or Salomon Kalou, any of them would be effective substitues should they receive the opportunity.

A final point of optimism should be found in the recent form of some of the Ivorians' key players.

Yaya Toure has begun to rediscover the form that made him such a devastating central-midfielder in Manchester City's title-winning season. Toure shined momentarily at the 2013 AFCON but was widely considered to have been off the boil over the last 12 months.

Gervinho is probably the most exciting aspect of the current squad. The winger, with his electric pace and direct running, offers something different. And his stagnation at Arsenal left the squad devoid of one of their most deadly weapons.

Since his move to Serie A however, with Roma, the former Lille man has been a revelation. His reunion with former coach Rudi Garcia has worked wonders for both men, and the left-sided attacker has been one of the stars of Roma's charge to the top of Serie A.

With fleet-footed Arouna Kone injured for the majority of the season, Gervinho's form takes on even more importance for Lamouchi and Co. If he can continue this form, then don't expect the Elephants to endure another first round elimination next summer.


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