World Cup 2014 Preview: Ivory Coast eyes knockout-round berth

 

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The odds of achieving that feat are in their favor, certainly more so than in the 2006 and 2010 editions of the tournament when the Ivory Coast was drawn into the "Group of Death" in both of its previous World Cup campaigns.

In 2006, the African nation was placed in Group C with Argentina, the Netherlands and Serbia and Montenegro, finishing third in the table with just three points.

Things did not get much easier in 2010 as the Elephants were drawn with Brazil, Portugal and North Korea. The managed to open group play with a draw against Portugal, but after a loss to Brazil, a 3-0 win over North Korea was not enough to see the nation advance.

The Ivory Coast got through its 2014 World Cup qualifiers with relative ease, taking 14 points from its six matches in group play before dispatching of Senegal in the two-legged playoff by a 4-2 aggregate score.

Of course, qualifying for the World Cup has not been the Ivory Coast's problem in recent years. But a kind draw in December saw the Elephants make it to Group C along with Colombia, Greece and Japan, a wide open field where each nation has a chance to advance.

Still, the Ivory Coast remains a strong favorite to compete beyond the group stage due the squad's undeniable quality.

Yaya Toure is unquestionably the nation's best player. He is a rare breed of player that can affect the game in all facets, getting forward to support the attack while maintaining a position in front of the back-four to disrupt the opposition's passing sequences.

Toure enjoyed a title-winning season with Manchester City this past year. He finished the campaign as the club's top scorer with 20 league goals, a stunning tally for a box-to-box midfielder.

The 31-year-old is a two-time starter for the Ivory Coast in World Cup play, but he should have a much better supporting cast this time around.

Cheick Tiote, Didier Ya Konan and Max Gradel should make strong contributions to Toure in the midfield, adding experience, physicality and passing range to the proceedings.

And the Ivory Coast boasts one of the World Cup's stronger offensive units, bringing the likes of Didier Drogba, Wilfried Bony, Gervinho and Salomon Kalou to Brazil.

The biggest question mark surrounding the squad is the defensive set-up. Didier Zakora and Kolo Toure are the two most-capped players in the squad, but with both players entering the tournament at 33 years old, their best days could be long gone.

Even with defensive concerns, the Elephants are clearly one of the favorites in Group C. They should find their way to the knockout round where they would be a dark horse to make a run to the quarterfinals.

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