Ivory Coast head into the 2014 FIFA World Cup with grounded expectations but in full knowledge they can spring a fair share of upsets on Brazilian soil.
The Elephants topped their Confederation of African Football second-round qualifying group with four wins and two draws from six matches, before waltzing beyond Senegal in the continental play-offs 4-2 on aggregate. Competitive fixtures against Japan, Greece and Colombia await Sabri Lamouchi's team, which are more than capable of making the knockout stage.
Lamouchi has revealed a 28-man provisional squad in anticipation of next month's tournament. Let's take a look at who has a chance of making the final 23, as reported by The Guardian:
|Ivory Coast Provisional World Cup Squad|
|GK||Gbohouo Sylvain||Sewe Sport|
|GK||Badra Ali||ASEC Mimosas|
|DEF||Brice Dja Djedje||Marseille|
|DEF||Benjamin Angoua Brou||Valenciennes|
|DEF||Ousman Vieira||Caykur Rizespor|
|MID||Yaya Toure||Manchester City|
|MID||Didier Ya Konan||Hannover|
|MID||Constant Djakpa||Eintracht Frankfurt|
|MID||Geoffroy Serey Die||Basel|
|ATT||Wilfried Bony||Swansea City|
|ATT||Seydou Doumbia||CSKA Moscow|
|Starting XI Projection|
|CDM||Geoffroy Serey Die|
Lamouchi has the luxury of calling on many stars who have enjoyed successful seasons across Europe. Didier Drogba, the talisman for Ivorian football, gets a final shot on the world stage.
He is once again joined by Manchester City powerhouse Yaya Toure, who netted 20 Premier League goals during City's title-winning season, per WhoScored.com, ensuring the Ivorian squad isn't wanting for experienced leaders. Despite a lack of recent matches and a string of mistakes at Liverpool, Kolo Toure also makes the selection.
Emmanuel Eboue, the Galatasaray enigma who used to ply his trade in England, is the most noticeable absentee from a 28-man lineup that is crammed with pace, power and attacking intent.
Lamouchi's squad possesses one factor that is sure to be pivotal at the World Cup: versatility.
Didier Zokora's consistent positioning in the starting lineup may be under threat, but the former Tottenham midfielder can slot into a number of roles for his young manager. Zokora has appeared in defensive midfield, at centre-back and even in a full-back role across previous matches. Similarly, Arthur Boka is comfortable playing on the left side of defence or in the middle.
Lamouchi will likely weigh up the opposition's strengths before making a final decision ahead of each match, as there's little point of deploying Zokora at centre-back if Colombia line up with the speed of Luis Muriel and Victor Ibarbo.
This versatility progresses through the rest of the squad. Yaya may start from deep in tight matches and burst forward when needed, or he could sit just behind a lone striker. Gervinho is best suited leading the line if Yaya does the latter, allowing the City midfielder to thread accurate passes onto his speedy teammate.
Drogba's vast experience is likely to see him start, especially during the opening game against Japan. He will be able to batter the less physical defences and hold the ball up, allowing his energetic colleagues to join attacks. If needed, Lamouchi will play with two strikers, as Wilfried Bony is likely to be thrown into the mix with great regularity.
Ivory Coast cannot be counted as dark horses for the competition, but they sit just behind Colombia, Chile and Belgium as those that can cause a real stir. The experienced team is more than used to competing with the best and offer some of the rawest physicality in the entire tournament—something that is counterbalanced with explosive attacks when space is afforded.
Lamouchi will be quietly confident with his selection. Although five names are yet to be deleted from the list, Ivory Coast's final squad will be well rounded, ready to battle and versatile.