There have been high hopes for the Ivory Coast for some time now, but they've yet to truly show how good they are. Can they this year?
The Elephants went through qualifying without losing, and have lost just one competitive match since the last World Cup four years ago. There is a strong sense of togetherness in the side, born out of the fact that many of these players have been playing together for numerous years. With that in mind, how will the Ivorians fare in Brazil this summer? Here is your in-depth preview...
The most likely African team to win a World Cup in the near future, Ivory Coast have star power in the likes of Didier Drogba, Gervinho as well Yaya and Kolo Toure. Having been handed tough groups in 2006 and 2010, this is their time to shine on the world's biggest stage as they take on more modest opponents in the form of Colombia, Greece and Japan.
Sabri Lamouchi's side come in with high hopes but could ultimately be relying on an old guard of players. Drogba, both Toure's and Dider Zokora are all the wrong side of 30, and this is probably their last chance to make an impact at the World Cup. Will that spur them on or be a burden on their shoulders?
Ivory Coast enter the tournament with plenty of players in form. Serge Aurier has emerged with Toulouse this year, whilst Yaya Toure and Wilfried Bony both enjoyed fruitful Premier League seasons. Even Gervinho – who was mostly hopeless with Arsenal – has bounced back to have an impressive campaign with Roma. Manager Lamouchi will be hoping that these players can continue that form into the tournament.
There are plenty of familiar faces in the Ivorian setup, but the defence is a concern. Whilst the aforementioned Aurier should star, there are concerns over the ageing and error-prone quartet of goalkeeper Boubacar Barry, centre backs Sol Bamba and Kolo Toure, and left back Arthur Boka. If the Elephants are to progress into the later rounds of the tournament, they need strong performances from their back line.
Although Drogba has been the poster boy of Ivorian football for over ten years, their main man is Manchester City's Yaya Toure. Having racked up 21 goals and nine assists for City this season, Toure is in the form of his life and Ivory Coast will need him to contribute in both attack and defence in order to make a splash at the World Cup.
One to Watch
He's been mentioned through this preview, and it's generally because he's really quite good, but Toulouse right back Serge Aurier should be the man to make a name for himself this summer. The 21-year-old has already been strongly linked with a move to Arsenal to replace Bacary Sagna, and the athletic full back could earn even more suitors with impressive displays in the coming months.
It's the last hurrah at the World Cup for many of these Ivorian stars, and they should be looking to sign off in style. The ability of the likes of Toure, Drogba and Gervinho should take them out of the group stage, but they would then almost certainly run in to either Italy, England or Uruguay in the last 16 – where we would really see what Lamouchi's men are made of.