The irony of life was exhibited in a picture of contrasting fortunes last night when the final whistle in the match between Greece and the Ivory Coast was blown. The wild, pandemonium-inducing, crazy celebration of the Greeks was the exact opposite of the tears and scenes of despairing heartbreak of the Ivorians. However, it should have been the other way round.
Featuring Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure, Gervinho, Kolo Toure and Solomon Kalou amongst others, the team sheet of the Ivorian national team reads like a selection of an African All Stars team and as such, the hopes of the continent were pinned on making it out of their group into the second round of the ongoing Brazil 2014 World Cup but for the third time in succession, the ‘Elephants’ have failed to make it beyond the group stages.
On their two previous appearances at the global tourney, the West African team could rightly blame the curse of the draw for their elimination after being placed in ‘groups of death’ but this time around, it was a refereeing blunder abetted by their own failure to the simple things right after being placed in a fairly easy group that have resulted in them going home early once again. This elimination has far more reaching consequences for the present crop of Ivorian players however, as this is the last chance for the talented likes of Didier Drogba, Kolo Toure and Solomon Kalou to achieve something collectively as a team, thus ensuring that the ‘golden generation’ of Ivorian football confirmed their tag as perennial underachievers.
In the end, their elimination occurred in the cruelest circumstances imaginable but the players have only themselves to blame. Their opening victory over Japan only served to mask a number of errors which their coach rightly insisted after the match bothered him more than the victory pleased him. The players however refused to heed his warning and in their second match against Columba made another error which led to them conceding a second goal which proved to be the difference. Against the Greeks last night, it was never imagined that the Ivorian players could fall to the same errors again and as such needing just a draw against a team which was yet to score a goal in the tournament, they were heavily tipped to qualify. Alas, once again, they would be the architects of their own misfortune even though the referee, Christian Lescano also played his part in sending out the African team.
Greece took the lead when midfielder, Chek Tiote carelessly lost the ball to Samaris, who then had an easy task to beat the Ivory Coast goalkeeper Barry – he did not fail. Ivory Coast picked themselves up in the second half and relentlessly pressurised the Greeks and so it was a deserved reward when substitute, Wilfried Bony finished up a wonderful counter-attacking move after being teed up by Gervinho. With the second round less than 20 minutes away and the jinx about to be broken, all that was left was for the Ivoirians to keep possession and hit the Greeks on the counter-attack which seemed to be working for them but selfishness from Solomon Kalou in particular on two separate occasions led to missed goal-scoring opportunities which would have killed off the European team and they were made to rue these when in the 91st minute, when Samaras of Greece tripped himself in the penalty box and the referee who had not given much joy to the Ivoirian team all match long ruled that it was a penalty. Samaras himself dusted himself off to score a goal which was just the Greek’s third ever in three world cup appearances and send his team into the second round at ivory Coast’s expense.
With Cameroon having also been booted out, two of Africa’s five representatives are now out of the World Cup. Two of the remaining three, Nigerian and Algeria are seemingly well placed to qualify, while Ghana who have been the brightest side from the continent so far have a less straightforward path ahead of them. We wish all three the best of luck.
Damilola Orehin is a freelance creative writer with interesting opinions and analysis of sports, entertainment and social issues. He has written on several established print and online platforms and he showcases his deep-rooted passion for a wide variety of sports at tecmosports.blogspot.com.
Follow him on twitter @Kundammyby