Handed a tough draw at Germany 2006, Côte d'Ivoire found themselves pitched into yet another daunting section at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™. Acquitting themselves well despite trying circumstances, the Ivorians are entitled to take pride from their unsuccessful bid to reach the Round of 16.
Nevertheless, the fact they should feel no shame at coming off third-best to Brazil and Portugal does not soften the blow of elimination felt by Sven-Goran Eriksson's side. Before the tournament began, the Elephants had high hopes of rising to the challenge and elbowing their way past their esteemed rivals. "It is a huge disappointment. We had the ability to go through," said defender Kolo Toure after the west Africans' 3-0 defeat of Korea DPR at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit, a match that proved to be their parting shot in South Africa.
For his part, star striker Didier Drogba rued his side's misfortune at landing in a cut-throat Group G, saying: "We've been drawn in two tough groups two times running now and that's unlucky.” Even so, he and his team-mates have plenty of reasons to be satisfied with their efforts, as Didier Zokora acknowledged.
The midfielder-turned-central defender told FIFA:"It was so important for us to put everything we had into winning the last match and finishing the group with four points. That was the target we set ourselves after losing to Brazil so we can feel pleased with our efforts and return home with our heads up. Like Germany 2006, we were drawn in a really difficult section with two big favourites. We held our own against Brazil for half an hour, though, and we showed that African football has made progress, which is an achievement in itself."
What might have been
Coach Eriksson also sounded an upbeat note, saying: "This team have become a disciplined and organised unit. They have improved, as they've shown over the course of the three games. We could have scored against Portugal, though, and that's maybe the match we should be looking back on with a hint of regret. At the same time, you don't get through by throwing the whole team forward and trying to win at all costs. Leave them a little space and you have a kid called [Cristiano] Ronaldo running at you. It wasn't easy."
As Erikkson pointed out, that opening draw against the Portuguese turned out to be the deciding factor in the Elephants' exit from the tournament. Intent as they were on defending as a unit and keeping their shape, the Ivorians failed to carry a consistent threat up front over the course of those 90 minutes, much to Kolo Toure's chagrin. "We should have taken more risks and gone on the attack more," he said. "We were too nervous in that game and we didn't really know how to approach it. We were hesitant and that's a pity."
Aside from their disappointment at that missed opportunity, the Elephants were also preaching a message of defiance after easing past the North Koreans. "We should be happy," Emmanuel Eboue told FIFA. "We have shown that we can play good football." Striker Salomon Kalou said: "Before the competition began we thought four points would be enough, but we can still be proud at what we have done." Summing up the Ivorians' spirit best of all, however, was their unflinching captain, who battled back from a troubling elbow fracture sustained on the eve of the finals to lead his side from the front. "We maybe have a right to feel sad at not qualifying for the last 16 but we have no reason to be disappointed with our efforts overall," said a bullish Drogba. "Our World Cup is over but we can be proud of our performances against Brazil and Portugal."