Fear trumps glory again as Ivory Coast eliminated
Aside from the last minute of drama, this was a report that could have mostly been written before the game even started. For a team whose mental state has been battered all too often, this 2-1 loss to Greece with that penalty in the final minute may have just sent the players over the edge. While they had previously suffered these sort of horrific results only in the African Cup of Nations, for these experiences to spill into a World Cup will be very damaging to the collective of the team. But sadly, they have only themselves to blame.
Same mental problems plague Les Elephants
Predicted by even the most optimistic supporters of the Ivory Coast, their nervous reaction to the game, even at the start, summed up the same old problems that have plagued this success-starved team, and what they have become most famous for. After they stepped onto the pitch riddled with nerves, the extra half-a-second they dwelt on the ball made them look like manager Sabri Lamouchi had taken them on a 20-mile run up Sugar Loaf mountain the day before, as they fluffed passes and first touches, which only served to ramp up the nerves of the West Africans. And going 1-0 behind was the result of that.
After having their own bar hit, this warning sign failed to perk them into action, and they were comprehensively punished when Cheick Tiote's lazy pass was intercepted by Andreas Samaris and put into the net. And later, the biggest hammer blow of them all. Giovanni Sio -- having been on the field for only a matter of minutes -- gave away a penalty a minute from the end, and the Ivory Coast are heading home. With only themselves to blame after an appalling first half, their previous experiences clearly overrode their ability to focus on winning the game, as they now pack their bags and head back to Abidjan.
Lamouchi tinkers too much
Praised for his positivity and boldness after the first game against Japan, the man whose contract was due to run out at the end of this World Cup went one change too far in this game, with his substitutions perhaps contributing to the team's downfall. While Lamouchi's decision to replace Tiote with Wilfried Bony proved inspired, as the Swansea man scored the equaliser, the immediate defence-focus plan that saw Didier Drogba come off for young centre-midfielder Ismael Diomande was arguably questionable.
Lamouchi probably would have benefitted from taking off someone like Salomon Kalou in an effort to shore up the middle of the park -- especially considering what Drogba offers defensively. Immediately aiming to contain Greece rather than counter, being pinned back in their own box is hardly where this side want to be, considering the severe deficiencies they have.
While the result of bringing Sio on for Kalou at the end of the game is hardly something you can blame Lamouchi for, it's difficult to wonder what might have been, as the man who wasn't expected to be in the squad managed to destroy his country's tournament success once again.
So ends the "Golden Generation" era
For the likes of Drogba, Kolo Toure and Didier Zokora (and maybe more), this is pretty much it. Some of the finest players the country has ever produced now finish trophy-less, after so many unrealised expectations. And it was done in a way that while certainly not fitting, in many ways, isn't overly surprising. For a team that have gone through so much, going out in a psychological blaze feels somewhat appropriate, and something that you cannot see them coming back from in the near term.
While the 2015 African Cup of Nations in Morocco next January was touted as the absolute last chance these players will get, this mental mauling has no doubt hurt the chances of them rocking up to give it another go. With Lamouchi off as well, who exactly will be hanging up their international boots remains to be seen, but one cannot begin to imagine how important these players have become to their country, and it's a shame that they will not have stories of glory to justify this contribution. A new set of faces and the lack of psychological baggage will be a positive, and hopefully they can develop the same level of ability that the current crop was blessed with, as, in the future, the country looks to build a team of players who focus on winning rather than being scared of losing.