Die and Tiote paper over the cracks
When cracks appear in solid foundations, you can either fix the problem or paper over it, hiding what lies beneath. Applied to the Ivory Coast, two skilled tradesmen are doing the latter to mask the team's ills, as if everything is fine. Step forward, Serey Die and Cheick Tiote.
The pair play a very important role between the roving Yaya Toure and the air-kicking centre-back pairing of Didier Zokora and Sol Bamba. They have served their purpose with a commendable vigour so far, sniffing out threats the opposition pose. By hook or by crook, they get the job done.
The use of Die and Tiote by coach Sabri Lamouchi to paper over the cracks is essentially a necessity, enforced by a fundamental lack of options in defence beyond Zokora and Bamba. While the dearth of decent central defenders the country produce is more of a long-term worry, World Cup 2014 success does not care for the long-term. This cover-up operation is what needs to be done -- for now.
Bamba and Zokora are not good enough at this level; they remain the weakest part of the team, and Die and Tiote are obliged to stop the ball going near them. They are both industrious players, and their endless stamina and raw desire is a sight to behold when they stalk their prey on the pitch.
Of course, headlines are usually reserved for the star names, Toure and Didier Drogba, but this combative pair has become an indispensable part of the national team's strategy. Their place in the starting 11 is unconditional at present, barring an injury. The Japanese trio of Shinji Okazaki, Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda were expected to cause Les Elephants problems in their opening match, but Die and Tiote effectively prevented any of them taking hold in a 2-1 win.
Admittedly, Honda did strike for Japan, but Ivory Coast's security guards cannot prevent everyone from getting through. Support for them is crucial yet sadly lacking.
They suffocated the likes of James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado from having too much of an influence during their clash with Colombia, although class -- and a paucity of Ivorian options -- proved too much in a 2-1 defeat. In a team famed for the glut of attacking talent they have, the fact that two snarling defensive midfielders could be the ones who make the biggest difference is incongruous to the reputation that they have.
Should they beat Greece and advance to the round of 16, their importance will only grow. Likely to be faced with stronger attacking opposition, the need to stop them from getting to Zokora and Bamba is even more vital -- not only in terms of goal prevention but also in the retrieving of the ball to start counterattacks. Their role is to keep them in the game rather than win the game directly.
When it comes to the showreel of the Ivory Coast's tournament, we already know what will be included. Serge Aurier's crossing against Japan, Gervinho firing past David Ospina and perhaps a defender-swatting run from Toure later in the tournament. But the constant will be Die and Tiote screening the defence, making sure the rest of the world is not exposed to the cracks that lie behind.