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Jun 26, 2014

Assessment: Looking to the future

Greece are into the last 16 of the FIFA World Cup for the first time in their history after beating Ivory Coast 2-1.

Ivory Coast have bowed out of the World Cup in the group stages and ESPNFC blogger Sam Crocker gives his verdict on the brighter points of the campaign as well as what went wrong.

One sentence, World Cup recap

Les Elephants' collapse came as the chance for progress was within their grasp, but the same old mental problems led to another tournament disappointment.

All team assessments

Group Stage: Australia | Bosnia-Herzegovina | Cameroon | Croatia | Ecuador | England | Ghana | Honduras | Italy | Iran
Ivory Coast Japan | Portugal | Russia | South Korea | Spain
Round of 16: Algeria | Chile | Greece | Mexico
Nigeria | Switzerland | Uruguay | United States
Quarterfinals: Colombia | France | Belgium | Costa Rica
Semifinals: Brazil | Netherlands
Finalists: Argentina
Winners: Germany

Star man

Toulouse right-back Serge Aurier really stood out in Brazil, but it was a close call with Roma winger Gervinho also in fine form. During a World Cup where much of the talk was about it being the "last chance" for many of their ageing squad, it is somewhat ironic that a 21-year-old took the plaudits as the fabled "Golden Generation" largely failed to inspire.

Truly unstoppable down the right flank, Aurier's whipped crosses, powerful dribbling style and committed defending proved a thorn in the side of the opposition at both ends of the pitch, with the two assists in the 2-1 win over Japan in the opening game really announcing himself to the world.

With vast quantities of chatter abound regarding where Aurier will go next, Toulouse will be delighted to see their man playing so well -- you could almost see the price tag above his head increasing as he played. With Arsenal seen as the most likely of Premier League suitors, this is just the start for the young defender and he is expected to be a key cog in the new generation of Ivorian footballers.

Highlights

While Gervinho dancing past the Colombian defenders to score was probably the best moment in terms of pure quality, the comeback against Japan had the whole package. Starting with the effervescent Didier Drogba entering the field -- surrounded by the anticipation only comparable to a wrestler strutting toward the ring -- it created two minutes that provided the whole of Ivory Coast with the feeling that this might be their year.

The score line was 1-0 when Drogba came on in the 62nd minute, four minutes later they were 2-1 up, as two fizzing crosses from Aurier were headed in by Wilfried Bony and Gervinho. Drogba's aura gave the team a massive boost and that was beautiful to watch; he made it seem that he would be the one to pull them through adversity.

Didier Drogba and Gervinho shared a special moment for the country.

Low points

For the sake of the mental state of Ivory Coast fans, it's almost better not to mention it. But when Georgios Samaras' penalty in the 92nd minute hit the back of the net for Greece, many hearts were crushed, as the familiar feelings of disappointment flooded back. While mildly contentious, substitute Giovanni Sio's tackle on Samaras in the box was poorly executed as the Ivorians once again fell at the final hurdle in horrific circumstances.

The psychological battering taken added significance to a team that had experienced this on a number of occasions before -- with the 2012 African Nations Cup final penalty shootout loss to Zambia springing to mind. It was a terrible way to bring the international careers of the likes of Drogba and Kolo Toure to an end and it will go down as just one of the many disappointments that the "Golden Generation" have had during their time in the orange of the Ivory Coast.

Lessons learned

Sadly for Ivory Coast, there aren't many lessons learned that haven't already been taught, as their downfall fundamentally came down to 90 minutes of mental instability that was almost entirely predictable. Failing to deal with pressure for the umpteenth time after multiple intra-continent failings, ridding the side of this mentality is a job that has proved impossible thus far, and sadly they have run out of time at this World Cup.

For the future, they have shown at least that it is not all about the "golden generation," and that bringing in some new faces could prove the way to go if they are to avoid similar deficiencies in the future. The likes of Aurier and the age group coming through with him need to step up and take the place of the Drogbas and Toures, in order to wipe the slate clean and write a new chapter for the Ivory Coast.