Against Colombia, the Ivory Coast showed both their best and worst qualities.
Ahead of Group C's later game between Japan and Greece, the Elephants remain in a good position to claim their first-ever spot in the last 16, but there remains work to be done.
It's also concerning that familiar frailties remain.
Colombia posed a much greater threat to the Ivorians than Japan did and, similarly, than Greece will. The Elephants may have lost following goals from Juan Quintero and James Rodriguez, but they can look confidently towards the future.
The Colombia contest presented a fairly clear situation—and there have been a few of them concerning Africa's sides this summer—of one side's weaknesses coinciding with another team's strengths, and vice versa.
Beginning with weaknesses, the Elephants' defence doesn't look good on paper and, in reality, is arguably worse.
Arthur Boka and Serge Aurier are both fine full-backs, but alongside them, the defensive triangle of Didier Zokora, Sol Bamba and Copa Barry continues to be wholly unconvincing. Zokora is an ageing, converted central midfielder while Bamba is an ungainly stopper who struggles with balls in behind and when facing speedy, mobile attackers.
The pair were exposed time and time again by the Colombian forward line, replete with their fast and creative players. Juan Cuadrado, Pablo Armero, Juan Zuniga and Victor Ibarbo offered pace and forward motion. Teofilo Gutierrez dropped deep and disorientated Bamba while Rodriguez was an elusive and influential creator who sought to expose the space in and around the defensive duo.
While those players listed created problems all day, both of Colombia's goals actually came from set pieces. The first, their own, continued a concerning trend of an inability of African teams to defend from corners this summer, as James ghosted in to send a terrific header past Copa.
The second goal came after a dismal Aurier corner at the other end. The Toulouse man's cross didn't beat the first man, and after nicking the ball off Serey Die, the Colombian forwards demonstrated all of their pace and power on the counter-attack.
While Greece will also pose a threat from set pieces, they are unlikely to have the dynamism and the vitality to trouble the Elephants on the break. The duo of Bamba and Kolo Toure (who will replace the suspended Zokora) is incredibly one-dimensional but should be well-suited to deal with Greece's threats.
Another concern comes in the increasingly anonymous performances of Yaya Toure.
The attacking midfielder is coming off one of the finest seasons of his career—if not the finest—but has thus far been unable to impose himself for the Elephants. Having undergone surgery between the season's end and the beginning of the tournament, it's understandable that he is not fit, but thus far he has played the 90 minutes in both of the Ivorians' games to date, and there doesn't appear to be any kind of Plan B to supplement his tiring legs.
Unless something changes, Yaya will continue to be the side's white elephant in the room.
Late on, however, the Cote d'Ivoire began to show what they were capable of, and here we come onto their strengths.
They began to demonstrate the fact that even without Toure, they have offensive weapons the likes of which other nations would be envious.
For a second match, Wilfried Bony started, although he was arguably even more impotent against Colombia than he was in the opening hour against Japan, dropping increasingly deeper and having negligible impact in the opposition box.
By contrast, Didier Drogba again entered the fray to just change the complexion of the Ivorian approach. With him leading the line, Gervinho and Salomon Kalou suddenly had a reference point, and the whole side began to position themselves around the towering forward.
Drogba, for his part, just carries an aura and a sense of purpose that can be lacking when he is absent. Whether it be a valuable defensive header only seconds after coming on or a moment of sublime hold-up play on the outside of the opposition area, his measurable contribution is fantastic.
His intangible contribution may be even greater.
I'm not necessarily advocating that Drogba starts against Greece; manager Sabri Lamouchi has been brave, bold and progressive so far, and I don't want to discourage that, but the former Chelsea man remains an emphatic option from the bench.
As he demonstrated with a late, scintillating goal, Gervinho is in the form of his life. That makes three goals in three now for the dreadlocked forward, and coming off the back of a terrific season with AS Roma, he can fairly be considered among the world's most dangerous forwards at this point in time. He will look to torment the Greeks and might enjoy some space behind Vasilis Torosidis.
Finally, the superlatives keep on rolling in for Aurier.
The full-back's average position on the pitch was incredibly high, indicating both the freedom afforded him by Lamouchi and the defender's desire to charge forward and influence proceedings in the final third.
Aurier's crossing, while frequent, was not particularly successful (he only managed one successful cross out of 12), but his individual battles were almost all won. He made five successful take-ons (out of six), completed a 100 percent tackle success rate and also won 100 percent of his aerial duels.
Here is a player destined for great things who is enjoying a fine tournament and revelling in the responsibility afforded him with the national side.
Few teams will face the kind of threat that Aurier (alongside Salomon Kalou or Max Gradel on the right) offers, and the right-back remains one of the Elephants' key offensive weapons. Greek left-back Jose Holebas also likes to plough forward, so expect Aurier to influence the proceedings once again on Tuesday.
Defeat to Colombia may have come as a reality check to the Golden Generation and their starry ambitions. It may just be the jolt they need to concentrate upon and refine their myriad of offensive weapons ahead of the crunch match against Greece.
Stats via FourFourTwo StatsZone
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