Sven Goran Eriksson crafted a strategy designed to help Côte d'Ivoire stun Brazil, but not only did his defence prove less than airtight, the Elephants’ counter-attacks also failed to produce results – at least until it was too late. So did the African side get their tactics wrong or were they simply overcome by the better team?
An hour after Sunday’s 3-1 defeat at Soccer City Stadium, the faces of the Ivorian players were still etched with disappointment in the chilly corridors of the Johannesburg venue. The usually upbeat Elephants looked dazed and frustrated at the outcome, but defender Guy Demel denied that they had been outclassed: “We have nothing to be ashamed of because it’s not like we didn’t show up,” he said. “The regret we have is that we didn’t believe enough in our chances, especially in the first half. It’s a shame because we could have created a surprise.”
It is undeniable that for 25 minutes Côte d'Ivoire did their best to cause Brazil problems, using their physical power to gain a foothold in the game. Whether the five-time winners were prepared for such a combative encounter or not, they soon found themselves in a dog-fight, full of unflinching tackles and tight marking. Then, out of nowhere, Kaka combined superbly with Luis Fabiano and goalkeeper Boubacar Barry was left picking the ball out of his net. The Sevilla striker’s return to scoring form stung Eriksson’s men, according to Kolo Toure.
“They struck from their first chance and that changed everything,” explained the Manchester City centre-back. “After that goal, we had to change the way we played.” His fellow stopper Didier Zokora took up the theme. “We suddenly had to chase the ball after having spent 30 minutes well-positioned in the system we’d decided upon.”
At his post-match press conference, Eriksson said he thought the scoreline was hard on his team, though he conceded that his players were guilty of various errors. "We were very well-organised, as we were against Portugal,” said the Swedish tactician. “We were very good defensively, but we committed one or two little mistakes that Brazil took advantage of. To beat Brazil, you have to be perfect. When you make a mistake, you get punished immediately, as happened for their first and third goals.”
Despite his coach’s comments, Kolo Toure rejected talk of defensive failings. “We were only naive for their third goal,” he said, blaming the outcome on lapses elsewhere. “We didn’t put our chances away, failing to make the most of our counter-attacks. You can’t afford to miss chances against Brazil.” Befitting his role as vice-captain, the former Arsenal man then turned his thoughts to the team’s final outing against Korea DPR on Friday. “Those are the kinds of mistakes we have to avoid against North Korea. We also need to be more compact and above all do better with our chances.”
For all the positive remarks, their Soccer City Stadium reverse has left the Elephants flirting with elimination, but the players still feel they can write history in this tournament. “There’s one match to go and we owe it to ourselves to win it and hope events go in our favour,” added Demel. “Nothing’s over yet.”