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May 31, 2014

Loss to Bosnia shows Ivory Coast's defensive weakness

Didier Drogba showed he can still make an impact by scoring the Ivory Coast goal versus Bosnia.
Didier Drogba showed he can still make an impact by scoring the Ivory Coast goal versus Bosnia.

Ivory Coast's first pre-World Cup friendly did not get off to the best of starts last night in their against fellow tournament competitors Bosnia, as an experimental side failed to give manager Sabri Lamouchi much food for thought in a 2-1 loss, with no one from the starting XI putting in a performance to justify their inclusion on the pitch for the first World Cup game against Japan. - Report: Bosnia 2-1 Ivory Coast Kicking off in St. Louis in the United States -- the country in which Les Elephants World Cup training camps have taken place thus far before they travel south to Brazil -- the Ivory Coast fans got the chance to see a few rare faces in their national colours. Sylvain Gbohouo was given a chance in goal instead of the regular Boubacar Barry, Jean Daniel Akpa Akpro started at right-back ahead of club teammate Serge Aurier, and Sol Bamba was the man to replace Kolo Toure -- who was diagnosed with malaria shortly before the game. The midfield attack also saw big changes, with St. Etienne midfielder Ismael Diomande starting next to Cheick Tiote, as well as Mathis Bolly, Max-Alain Gradal, Giovanni Sio and Lacina Traore getting rare starts. The defensive problems were evidential from the start however, with Bosnia permanently seeming to have a man over on every attack, as the Ivory Coast defenders were regularly dragged out of position. Bamba -- somewhat of a comedy cult figure among watchers of the Ivory Coast in the same way that Emmanuel Eboue was in England -- was the obvious weak point. A big and tall lumbering figure, he is reminiscent of a more clumsy, less fast, less technical and generally less talented William Gallas, with his luminous boots representing the footballer that he believes himself to be -- but in reality is very far away from. Strutting about the pitch, he is a man who appears to think he is in someone else's body, with the confidence that he exudes hardly matched by the defensive actions that he produces. However, he was not the man at fault for the first goal. Coming in the 17th minute, Akpa Akpro's attempted chest back to Gbouhou was intercepted by Zvjezdan Misimovic inside the area. While Misimovic's shot was saved well by Gbohou, Edin Dzeko was on hand to slot the rebound into the net, in a goal that was definitely coming. At the other end, Ivory Coast were failing to threaten, with their only chances coming from set-pieces and long shots. Despite Tiote forcing a good save from Bosnia stopper Asmir Begovic, and Sio and Diomande both getting off shots from resulting free kicks, Les Elephants failed to utilise the obvious pace that Bolly and Gradel have on either flank. And with left-back Constant Djakpa clearing off the line, and a Bamba slip directing the way for Dzeko for a one-on-one again (where he fired miles over), halftime did not bring confidence ahead of another 45 minutes of football. Dzeko was again on the scoresheet eight minutes into the second half, as the defence failed to close him down on the edge of the area, allowing him to rifle a shot into the bottom corner in what was a very well-taken finish. The game very much slowed down after that, with neither side really looking seriously likely to score. The Ivory Coast attack proved to be mostly impotent despite good spells of pressure, with that final ball severely lacking, despite willingness of both fullbacks to get forward. The introduction of Didier Drogba proved to be a good move by Lamouchi, as he offered a presence and directness that they had considerably lacked. Questions are still floating around as to how Drogba will be used this summer (whether he starts or acts as an impact-sub) but his influence was demonstrable by the goal he scored at the end of the game to make it 2-1. Positives can be taken from the performances of some of the players. Diomande proved to be a useful player in the centre of the park, acting as an effective box-to-box midfielder, which is good for Lamouchi to know that there is someone who he can trust should Tiote or Serey Die get injured. Gbohouo had a solid game in goal, making saves when required, even though he is unlikely to displace the omnipresent Barry. Most importantly, however, this game proved that the concept of Drogba as an impact sub is not simply an idea drawn-up by a tactical blogger somewhere, as he once again showed that he can be massively helpful off the bench -- if that is indeed the role he plays. However, without Kolo Toure in defence, the back is where fans will worry most. While Toure has hardly excelled this season, the prospect of playing Bamba -- who seems to be permanently carrying an injury of some sort as well -- does not inspire confidence. With no obvious Toure replacement, there is the prospect of perhaps shifting Aurier inside to centre-back instead of Bamba, even though you do lose his offensive malice. Furthermore, the lack of threat going forward without Yaya Toure, Salomon Kalou and Gervinho is a concern as well. While these players are all likely to start, this friendly did show that strength-in-depth is probably not the squad's strong point. Going forward, they play El Salvador next on the 4th of June, also in the U.S. -- shortly after the deadline for the final 23-man squad has passed -- so Lamouchi is likely to use this game as a squad boost ahead of the full tournament. A big scoreline here would do a world of good to the confidence that may have been affected by this game.