At least for the first three games, the World Cup is not a single-elimination tournament. Such a setup allows team managers to learn what they did right and wrong with respect to their starting lineups, and going from their first to second game and then second to third, can implement reasonable adjustments to improve their teams’ performance. Yet whether impelled to move on from and leave his country’s older stars tucked away in the past, or oblivious to the effect these players currently have on his team, Ivory Coast’s coach Sabri Lamouchi has obstinately refused to make changes the rest of the soccer world deemed clearly necessary, and likely cost Les Elephants the chance to play to their fullest capacity for the entire match against Colombia on Thursday.
It was just five days ago that we witnessed how upon entering an opening game against Japan on the 62nd minute as a substitute, Didier Drogba galvanized the Ivory Coast unlike any other player on any other team could. Within a mere four minutes after his insertion, the Ivorians overcame a 48-minute long 1-0 deficit by netting goals on the 64th and 66th minutes. The palpable impact of Drogba on the flow of the match comprised two shots, one on target, and three drawn fouls, but most importantly, the legendary goal-scorer spurred the key attacking efforts that ultimately produced a 2-1 advantage and victory.
So why does his coach Lamouchi continue to sit him until the second half, as he did in the team’s second game against Colombia, subbing Drogba in at the 60th minute, after which although the opposition outscored them 2-1, Ivory Coast had never played better prior to his entrance, and wasted a plethora of opportunities to equalize? It shouldn’t be a dilemma of whether or not to pay homage to the country’s superstar, or considering the effect of his age (36): Drogba, without even needing to score, catalyzes the Ivorian team with his composed and creative presence on the pitch–making it undeniably vital for him to participate from the game’s opening whistle. Reports indicate that Drogba himself has expressed unhappiness over his coach’s controversial decision, forcing Lamouchi to publicly clarify and attempt to quell any problems.
Furthermore, Lamouchi mismanaged his squad in relation to other players as well. In placing Drogba into the game, he replaced Wilfried Bony–one of the players that cooperated well with and perhaps felt Drogba’s influence most in the last match against Japan, in which he netted Ivory Coast’s first goal to equalize the score. Then the realization hit that until his 67th minute substitution, Salomon Kalou–another aging team stalwart but still a productive midfielder–had not played the entire game. Another incomprehensible move by Lamouchi, Kalou had proven himself a useful cog in his team’s offense that led the 2-1 comeback win, and contributed significantly to late-game attacks by Les Elephants in only 27 minutes of play against Colombia–one can only assume he’d create even more goal-scoring opportunities had he received more time on the field.
Thus, with all these mismanagements and inability to understand the Ivorian roster’s strengths to the point of failing to start the best combination of his players, Lamouchi has already foiled his team’s chances against Colombia, and likely squandered a great opportunity to win Group C (and have a potentially weaker Group D opponent in the second round if the team advances). There’s still a final group match to make amends, as well as more than plausible round of 16 ambitions to achieve, but Lamouchi nevertheless has proved and remains the biggest hindrance to the success of his team, one that’s the best Ivory Coast has ever sent to the World Cup.