Ivory Coast need a positive result against Germany to avoid elimination from Tokyo 2020
If anyone offered Ivory Coast four points from six before they began their Olympic football journey in Tokyo, head coach Soualiho Haidara wouldn’t have believed his luck.
Given the presence of defending champions Brazil and Germany, the pair expected to make it out of Group D, going into their final group fixture against the European nation with their fate in their hands was definitely going to pass off as a success.
Nevertheless, there has to be a feel of glass half empty going into the Little Elephants’ decisive fixture in the Miyagi District on Wednesday. Even though a point against Brazil shouldn’t be gloom-ridden in normal circumstances, Sunday’s 0-0 result surely has to disappoint supporters of the African nation.
Following the dismissal of Douglas Luiz in the 14th minute for stopping a clear goalscoring opportunity, Haidara’s troops failed to really turn the screw for the rest of the game.
While Ivory Coast did receive their own red card after Kouassi Eboue was sent off after a second yellow with 11 minutes remaining, events between Luiz’s exit and the 79th minute were thoroughly disappointing.
The South Americans never looked to be undermanned in those 68 minutes and anyone who caught the game after the early incident might have thought the West Africans were the ones playing with 10 men.
In the second half, for instance, the Little Elephants had zero attempts in 45 minutes, despite playing over half an hour with an advantage.
It looked as though Haidara’s team went into the game at the Nissan Stadium looking to eke out a draw from the outset. When they gained the upper hand, they struggled to shift their mentality to playing more front-foot football and ultimately had to make do with a point.
Indeed, it was telling that Ivory Coast’s better players on the day were goalkeeper Ira Eliezer Tape and defenders Wilfried Singo and Eric Bailly.
The latter was busy for the entire game and was forced to clear the ball from danger on multiple occasions as Brazil pressed.
His Manchester United teammate, Amad Diallo, was yet again underwhelming. Perhaps, the teenager’s run-of-the-mill showings in Tokyo can be ascribed to Haidara’s rather humdrum approach so far in their opening two games.
Amad was far from his best in the first game and not even his assist for Franck Kessie’s impressive winner could do enough to embellish an ordinary outing. His withdrawal for Fiorentina man Christian Kouame just after the hour mark against Brazil was striking particularly as the team chased a possible winner.
While early elimination for the Man United duo means they’ll join up with their club teammates sometime in August, rather than September if they go deeper in the competition, the inability to pass Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s test will be a disappointment.
“I think everyone, when they grow up, watches the Olympics and can see Usain Bolt or Ryan Giggs. I saw him play in the Olympics [for Great Britain in 2012]!” Solskjaer told the club’s website in mid-June. “When your country calls you up, I think I can’t stand in the way of that boyhood dream being fulfilled.
“Of course, Eric is over-age, but I think they can see the value of him and that’s why they brought him in,” he added. “Amad is a young, exciting prospect. It’ll be good to see them. It’ll be their pre-season, but they’ve got to come back with a medal. We need a nice feel about the place when they come back!”
Getting the better of Germany won’t be easy. Stefan Kuntz’s team responded well to a 4-2 defeat by Brazil with a come-from-behind 3-2 win over Saudi Arabia last time out, leaving them a point back of the two sides occupying the qualification spots.
One positive for Ivory Coast, though, has to be the supposed soft underbelly of the European nation, whose concession of six goals in their opening two matches may point to a perceived weakness defensively.
It could allow Amad to finally flourish, too, although a top performance or otherwise may be influenced by Haidara, who knows all his team has to do is pick up a point in Rifu on Wednesday.
Things will definitely get interesting if the Germans score first, as that will precipitate an open game, which wouldn’t necessarily suit the West Africans.
For the neutral, it would be the perfect tonic for an enjoyable 90 minutes that will decide which nation goes through along with Brazil, tipped to get the better of the Saudis.
Solskjaer threw down the gauntlet to Bailly and Amad to win unprecedented gold for Ivory Coast in Tokyo. Having found themselves in a favourable position with their fate in their hands, exiting on Wednesday will be a disappointment.
However, the Little Elephants will have only themselves to blame for failing to turn the screw against what should have been a weakened Brazil side. Three points will have all but confirmed progress…now, they face a nervous 90 minutes against a free-scoring opponent to decide their fate at the Games.