World Cup 2014 Team-by-Team Guide: Ivory Coast swansong
Past tournaments: 2006, 2010
Previous Best: Group Stage – 2006, 2010
How they got here: The Ivorians passed through a testing qualification process with flying colours, topping their group in the initial phase ahead of a tricky Morocco side before seeing off a Senegal team containing Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse in some style over two-legs in the play-offs for their section.
Star man: Yaya Toure (Manchester City)
Forget the birthday shenanigans for a minute and let’s focus on the cold hard facts: last season Yaya Toure scored 20 goals and provided nine assists in a Premier League title-winning season for Manchester City.
He also found the net a further four times in the cup competitions, including this memorable goal in the 3-1 League Cup final victory over Sunderland.
Top scorer for his club this season, the 31-year-old has also been in fine form for the national team over the past two years, scoring six goals in 13 games for the Elephants in 2013 alone.
Powerful and with a surprising burst of pace, he will head to this World Cup off the back of arguably his best season as a professional and if he can reach anywhere close to the form seen over the past 12 months, the Ivory Coast may have a great chance of going far in Brazil.
Under the radar: Serge Aurier (Toulouse)
In a team full of ageing stars edging ever closer to the conclusion of their careers, 21-year-old full-back Serge Aurier represents arguably their brightest star for the future.
A regular in Ligue 1 with the unfancied Toulouse, Aurier made his first appearance for the Elephants in June of last year, with manager Sabri Lamouchi impressed enough to make the Ouragahio star part of his World Cup plans.
Having featured for Ivory Coast in both legs of their play-off victory over Senegal, the full-back should be of particular interest to Arsenal fans, with manager Arsene Wenger thought to have identified the defender as the ideal replacement for the outgoing Bacary Sagna.
Team nutcase: Didier Zokora (Trabzonspor)
There are a number of candidates for the role of team nutcase when it comes to the Ivory Coast: midfielder Serey Die, for instance, would be an excellent candidate, given that he once received an eight-game ban in Switzerland for slapping a ball boy.
Cheick Tiote’s penchant for the occasional wild challenge could also make him a good shout, while we can only lambast Lamouchi for leaving out the Elephant’s clown-in-chief Emmanuel Eboue.
However, when it comes to downright mental behaviour on the pitch, it doesn’t get better than Didier Zokora and an infamous incident that left former Newcastle United man Emre Belozoglou clutching his crown jewels.
Back in 2012, Emre faced off against Zokora in a game between Fenerbahce and Trabzonspor that was extra spicy given that the Turkish star had been given a two-game ban for allegedly racially-abusing the Ivorian during a previous encounter before the teams.
When the two met again, Zokora dished out the kind of justice that even Roy Keane would consider drawing the line at.
How far can they go?
The Ivorians have made a nasty habit of bottling big chances at glory in recent years, losing the African Cup of Nations final to Zambia in 2013 and exiting to an inexperienced Nigeria side in the quarter finals the following year.
Their previous two appearances at a World Cup finals have proven fruitless too, though in both instances the Elephants were drawn in the perceived Group of Death. This time around the draw has been kinder to them, though players like Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba will nevertheless need to be at their big-game best if they are to progress.
A tricky Second Round game against one of Italy, England or Uruguay awaits, though the Ivorians would likely see a place in the knockout stages as progress.
Check out the Ivory Coast’s memorable 3-2 comeback win over Serbia & Montenegro
How far do you think Ivory Coast can go? Tweet @JackBeresford86 with your views now!
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