Lessons learned for Côte d'Ivoire
Côte d'Ivoire came to the 2006 FIFA World Cup with a lot of promise and although they fell at the first hurdle, they won many friends and admirers in their all-too-brief visit to Germany.
Being pitched into their first FIFA World Cup in a group featuring such old campaigners as Argentina and the Netherlands, along with a Serbia and Montenegro who had impressed in qualifying, was never going to be easy and so it proved for Côte d'Ivoire.
A lack of experience got the better of the Africans in all three fixtures, where they went two goals behind on each occasion. While it is equally true that they battled back valiantly every time, 2-1 defeats against Argentina and the Netherlands meant their elimination was confirmed before they met Serbia and Montenegro.
Go to the Côte d'Ivoire team page
Henri Michel's side can feel justifiably proud of the way they threatened Argentina and the Dutch with their bustling, highly-motivated and energetic playing style and a point in either of those games would have made a huge difference to their debut campaign.
Team skipper and inspirational figure Didier Drogba scored on his first visit to the finals, though an injury-time booking against Argentina, coupled with another yellow in the Dutch clash meant he missed the final game through suspension.
Drogba's close-range goal against Argentina was not a patch on Bakary Kone's thundering strike from 25 metres against the Netherlands and when the tournament has finished, that will still rank as one of the best goals at Germany 2006.
Côte d'Ivoire were out, as were Serbia and Montenegro, by the time the teams met in Munich and, free from pressure, between them they produced one of the most outstanding games so far at these finals.
Yet again Côte d'Ivoire fell 2-0 behind early on but, inspired by two-goal Budweiser Man of the Match Aruna Dindane, they produced a stirring comeback and a penalty four minutes from time by Bonaventure Kalou secured a 3-2 victory to bring pride, hope and beaming smiles to their many supporters from Africa and beyond.
Minutes after the final whistle had blown, coach Michel announced he would not be seeking to renew his contract and would instead by heading for a club job in Qatar. Reviewing their efforts, meanwhile, he pinpointed the defensive lapses which left the team trailing in each match as a key area of concern, but also admitted the Ivorians needed too many opportunities before they got a goal.
The Frenchman added: "Côte d'Ivoire have a good future ahead of them but they have to work hard and not listen to people who would have them believe that they are the best team in the world. They need to go back to work quickly to qualify for the next World Cup in 2010. If the team go on working hard, they can be there."
For their part, the players were obviously disappointed to see their coach go and Drogba said: "I regret that Henri Michel is leaving. We have to thank him for the fact that that we are here at the World Cup. We were here to learn. What the team is missing is the consistency."
Reasons for optimism
Another senior player, Arsenal defender Kolo Toure, said it best when he declared: "We have a young team and in the next four years we will have the same squad." Côte d'Ivoire were one of the most exciting, adventurous teams in the group stage at the 2006 FIFA World Cup and they seem to have what it takes to be the same again.