World Cup Day 8 Colombia/Ivory Coast: Blame Goes To The Coach

Lamouchi (right) has hurt more than helped his team with his roster decisions.

Lamouchi (right) has hurt more than helped his team with how he’s handled his lineup.

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.

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World Cup Day 3: Colombia-Greece Notes

Colombia vs. Greece

1st half:

Armero (7) started things off quickly with a 5th-minute strike. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Armero (7) started things off quickly with a 5th-minute strike. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

-considering that Greece readily welcomes (and usually effectively wards off) opposing offensive attacks with a stout defense, it’s surprising how easily the Colombians tore through their offensive third, and following connections within the opposing penalty box, found an open Pablo Armero to slice in the score; this development in the early-going could either speak to the underestimation of Los Cafeteros playing without star Radamel Falcao (retaining their CONMEBOL qualifying form so far), or to the persisting consideration and potential importance of the factor for teams playing the World Cup within their home continent

-after Colombia’s fifth-minute goal, the Greeks seem to have woken up, and for the time thereafter maintain possession and hold the ball away from an explosive opposing attack for most of the half (notably grabbing back the better side of possession percentage, and leading in the category 56-44 by halftime)

-though not necessarily having great technical proficiency, Greece has generated some noteworthy offensive attacks (all of which slow-developing and devoid of any urgency) albeit abruptly ending in the Colombian penalty box, in addition to hunkering down on the defensive end of the pitch and only yielding a few counterattacking opportunities–typifying how Greece’s entire team always operates; so by smoothly executing their gameplan in the first half, the Greeks have shown the scoreboard to be deceptive, playing better through 45 minutes than their foes


2nd half:

-the Colombians have regained their offensive focus in the early parts of the half, pressuring upfield once more; after the Greece is booked for two yellow cards in the first 10 minutes (losing control of the game), Los Cafeteros capitalize on a corner kick (58′) as striker Teofilo Gutierrez situates himself in the opportune place to tap in a score

-the Greeks show signs of offensive life in a reaction to the 2-nil deficit, and combine for a fantastic opportunity that ends when a header smacks off the crossbar

-with about 15 minutes remaining in the contest, Colombian coach Jose Pekermen inserts Jackson Martinez up top, subbing out Gutierrez–another dangerous offensive weapon (and potential WC breakout star) without which his team still somehow managed to accomplish a 2-0 lead; perhaps Pekermen should alter his lineup to include both of his exceptional strikers in the near future

-icing on the cake comes when 22-year old James Rodriguez connects on the third minute of stoppage time against a dispirited Greek defense (3-0 Colombia)

End-game thoughts: entering its first game of the WC, Colombia could have easily hit a roadblock in a defensively dominant Greek team, especially after having to compensate for and adjust to the absence of goal-poacher Falcao (something they have not dealt with in major tournaments); although out-possessed and slightly out-played by Greece, the Colombians have discovered that their prolific offensive play and cohesiveness in the attack, along with a strong counter-attacking ability, will carry them in this tourney

-also of noteworthy recognition: South American teams have now posted an impressive 3-0 record in the World Cup, a mark they’ll likely push to four before the day ends after a Uruguay-Costa Rica match

2014 FIFA World Cup Group C: Full Of Parity, Lacking In Luster

A Falcao-less free-for-all 

Just as any hopes that Radamel Falcao would play in the World Cup have evaporated, so too has any true interest or consideration for the results of Group C. Looking ahead to the knockout stages, the top two point-getters (from a pool of England, Italy, and Uruguay) from Group D will voraciously pounce on the two teams from a much weaker Group C selection. This outlook has become increasingly more likely after the Colombian goal-scoring machine in Falcao was ruled out, meaning Group C teams will have most if not all their successes playing against each other.

Gutierrez (19) will look to guide Colombia offensively in the absence of his superstar teammate. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

Gutierrez (19) will look to guide Colombia offensively in the absence of his superstar teammate. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

But even with the AS Monaco striker unavailable, Colombia persists as one of the most talented teams, composed of players moonlighting on clubs around the world, in the group. Only in their projected starting lineup, Los Cafeteros have players on clubs based in France, Argentina, Italy, Spain, and Portugal; with a tourney like the World Cup that includes sides from five different continents, this list of clubs translates into familiarity with a wide array of international competition for the Colombians, who enter as prepared and tested as any other team in the group.

The team’s offensive firepower stems from the talented forward duo of Teofilo Gutierrez–the highest goal-scorer during qualifiers that will play in Brazil–and F.C. Porto’s Jackson Martinez. The midfielding corps is just as integral to the explosive Colombian offense, that posted fantastic CONMEBOL qualifying numbers: in addition to amassing 30 points, Los Cafeteros led the zone with 96 shots on target, as well as placed second in both pass completion percentage and assists.

As a whole, the team will rely heavily on pushing up–and moving out of a shaky defensive third of the field–as much as they can, allowing the midfielders and attackers to possess the ball and create chances. Thus, Colombia thrives on the counterattack, and without Falcao around which the offensive previously revolved, will try to get the most out of quickly driving the ball up-field out of connections from several competent and reliable players.

While Colombia has awaited a WC return for a lengthy 16 years, the Ivory Coast has finally arrived on something even more elusive: a non-deathtrap group. In their last two World Cup appearances that marked the first in their history, the Ivorians have had horrible luck with draws; in 2006 they came in third facing the likes of Argentina and the Netherlands, and had the same result in 2010, but against Brazil and Portugal, another power-tandem containing both a South American team and European one. But now that they’ve finally been placed on even grounds with their opposition, and despite all the clamor about their age, the team will jump on this perfect opportunity.

A point-black miss on goal–by opposing Senegal in the final round of African qualification–away from not travelling to Brazil, the Ivory Coast have put their narrow escape behind them, and will enter the tourney guided by a group of seasoned veterans, once deemed the country’s golden generation and still remain among Africa’s best players. Operating as the linchpin that allows other talented members on the team to actually mesh well together, Manchester City’s Yaya Toure will showcase his scoring and passing proficiency, impose himself physically with his tackling (epitomizing an overall sizable and strongly-built side), and speedily patrol the field from box-to-box in group play.

The 31-year old plays alongside a larger group of forwards–most of which fall back to a more midfielding area–that includes the seemingly ageless Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou (who clinched the team’s WC qualification), and Gervinho, all contributing to the team’s fast-paced attack. It’s important to note that three of the six projected starters that play MF/F are between 27 and 28 years old, and by also acknowledging the near certainty of Y. Toure not running out of stamina, the doubts linked to this team’s age are a overblown. Furthermore, the Ivory Coast have the skillful 25-year old Wilfried Bony at their disposable, either as substitute or even as starter, having shined at the EPL level for Swansea City scoring 16 goals the last season. So upon closer inspection, the perceived weakness of old age is exaggerated more than anything, and should instead factor in as experience that will prove valuable in the early-going of the tournament. Adding in the international exposure of most of the Ivorians (all but one currently play for European clubs), and the significance of Drogba’s last hurrah on this international stage, Les Elephants should finally make the leap that the world and their continent have long counted on, and emerge as victors of Group C.

The play of Drogba (11) and Toure (19) will be vital to the Ivory Coast's chances of advancing.

The play of Drogba (11) and Toure (19) will be vital to the Ivory Coast’s chances of advancing.

Some concern arises with the defensive unit, but even in this area of the pitch, there is strong experience; as long as Kolo Toure (older brother of Yaya) leads a similar effectiveness seen during qualifiers (surrendering just five goals), the back line should not impede the Ivory Coast’s path to winning the group.

Two respectable challengers 

Of course, parity abounds in Group C, making Japan and Greece almost as strong contenders who surely will pick up a good amount of points. Japan, known as the Samurai Blue, has become very technical, and have displayed the capacity to score goals in large numbers during qualification. A.C. Milan’s Keisuke Honda runs in the middle of Japan’s push forward and operates as the most important organizer on the team’s offense; the attacking midfielder also embodies the creative and dynamic style of the Samurai Blue, whose terrific ball movement can pose serious challenges to fellow group teams. Yet a Confederations Cup performance woefully exposed Japan, its defensive line not nearly up to par (yielding nine goals in three games in that tourney), especially on set pieces. Both Colombia and the Ivory Coast are well-equipped to capitalize on this Japanese deficiency, with an increased vulnerability playing against the Ivorians due to Japan’s general small frame.

Finally, Greece is one of the most defensively-oriented teams in the world; every Group C squad will struggle agonizingly against the Greeks for some duration during their games against them, and at least one game should conclude in a tie. The defensive corps allowed just four goals during group stages of UEFA qualification (and two more during a two-game playoff with Romania), physically outlasting and out-working opponents, and will once again lead the charge–and be critical to any slim, knockout stage hopes–in Brazil. While the Greek striking attack contains big, effective goal-scorers, the midfield rarely works creatively and does not have much pace. Overall, the offense is inconsistent and will not keep up with prolific goal-scoring efforts from other group teams, which will eventually break through the team’s defensive wall for some goals.

Key match: Ivory Coast vs. Japan, June 14th

Predicted Finish:

1) Ivory Coast (6 points)

2)  Colombia (5 points)

3) Japan (4 points)

4) Greece (1 point)