Football is given to hysteria and hyperbolic over-excitement; a series of excellent performances by a team or footballer hailed as the ‘next best thing’, promptly evoking, often ill-thought, comparisons with sepia-tinted glory days of eras gone by.
There is the propensity to overuse words and coin new phrases and perhaps chief amongst them is the term ‘golden generation’. The Dutch side of 1974 which featured Johan Cryuff, Tele Santana’s Brazilian team of 1982, the Danish team of the mid-80s, England’s band of Michael Owen, David Beckham et al and the current Belgian national team have all at one point been decorated with the oft-used tag. In Africa, the Ivorian team of 2006 to arguably 2013 have had the moniker as their second name for as long as anyone can remember.
As Yaya Toure and co take to the pitch in Equatorial Guinea, it represents for them one last shot at redemption having failed to live up to expectations for the best part of the last decade. They have had their moments, losing the 2006 and 2012 Africa Cup of Nations finals on penalties, but when it mattered most, they fluffed their lines and failed their audition on the grandest of stages. Like the other teams before them heralded as the best thing since sliced bread, their quest for glory ended ultimately in failure.
Perhaps to understand the importance of Les Elephants, it is pertinent to explain that the team means much more than footballing heroes to Ivorian people and are regarded as a team, whether rightly or wrongly, who eventually put an end to the country’s civil war in 2007. It is therefore understandable that great things were expected of Didier Drogba and others heading into the 2006 Cup of Nations in Egypt. They went as far as the final before succumbing to Egypt in Cairo on penalties.
It seemed inconceivable at the time that a group of Drogba, the Toure brothers, Salomon Kalou, Didier Zokora, Emmanuel Eboue, Arouna Kone and Aruna Dindane would not win at least one Cup of Nations but nine years and defeats to Egypt in the semi-final in Kumasi in 2008, Algeria in the quarter-final in Cabinda in 2010, Zambia in the final in Libreville in 2012 and Nigeria in the quarter-final in Rustenburg in 2013 later, the quest for the Holy Grail is still on.
Many members of that highly feted side have fallen by the wayside with the likes of Eboue, Zokora, Dindane, Kone and Drogba having since called time on their international careers. In all likelihood, Equatorial Guinea will be the final hurrah for the Toure brothers. Time has run out for the golden generation and in the case of the Toures and Kalou, they have merely booked themselves a last-ditch fixing session at last chance saloon.
Like any other team in search of a much coveted trophy, particularly Chelsea, there has been a large turnover of coaches in the last decade. Henri Michel, Ulrich Stielike (Stielike actually resigned due to a family emergency), Gerard Gili, Vahid Halilhodzic, Georges Kouadio, Sven-Goran Eriksson, Francois Zahoui and Sabri Lamouchi have all been hired and subsequently fired for failing to deliver the elusive continental success. Following yet another dismal performance on the biggest stage – the Brazil 2014 World Cup this time – the Ivorian FA relieved Lamouchi of his duties and turned to 46 year old Frenchman, Herve Renard as their knight in shining armour.
Enough of overpaid mistakes and nearly-theres, the FA hired a man with a proven track record of success. After all, Les Elephants lost the 2012 final on penalties to Renard’s Zambia-tutored side on that fateful night in Libreville when the Chipolopolo exorcised demons of their own. The degree of Zambia’s victory that owed to Renard’s tactical acumen is still up for debate as it is believed by many that the team was emotionally motivated and their was a certain inevitability factor to their triumph with Libreville being the scene of their team’s ill-fated plane crash in which 18 squad members perished in 1993. That Zambia became the first defending champions to crash out in the group stage of the following tournament (South Africa 2013) strengthens the argument of Renard’s critics who have continually dismissed the 2012 victory as a fluke. Not like that would bother the Ivorians one bit, though.
The headache for Renard however is that this time there is no golden generation to call upon or neither is there an emotional wave on which his team is riding. This is the time to prove all his doubters wrong, once and for all. While Yaya Toure leads the side as its main character with the strength of a bull and the feet of a silky ballet dancer, there is a genuine lack of quality amongst his supporting cast. Manchester City new boy Wilfried Bony, Gervinho, Kalou, and Seydou Doumbia all make for a frightening frontline but since the retirement of Zokora shielding the defence, the back four has shipped in goals like it’s going out of fashion. Serey Die and Cheik Tiote for all their intensity do not quite cut it at the highest level. The ageing and inevitable decline of Kolo Toure has not helped matters either. They scored more goals (13) in qualifying than anyone else but also conceded more (11) than any other qualifier. That Boubacar Barry has somehow remained the undisputed choice between the sticks is baffling and also a source of concern. Drawn in Group D with Mali, Guinea and Cameroon and also to face any of the teams in the so-called Group of Death, C, their weakness at the back could be easily exploited.
— Goal (@goal_intl) January 20, 2015
Knowing fully well that his Zambia team was shorn of world class stars but based rather on team ethic and the strong will of the collective, Renard is preaching the same message to his new charges. “Wilfried is a goalscorer but needs to be in good shape,” said Renard. “Yaya has not been the best player in Africa for the last four years for nothing. But we need to build a team capable of working well together. That is the most important thing in football, not names. If you came here with Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic I don’t know if it would work.” The Frenchman is also under no illusions of the task ahead, saying, “The squad is a lot younger now and if you base it on our qualifying campaign I don’t think we can be labelled one of the favourites.”
This is not the golden generation rather another team of which much is nonetheless expected. Different faces, same old expectation. Yaya Toure and co are playing Russian roulette here, fail to win and they’ll forever be tainted with the brush of gallant failure. The only way out is victory on February 8.
Ivory Coast captain Yaya Toure insisted he'd be fit to play their Africa Cup of Nations opener against Guinea on Tuesday and also welcomed the arrival of Wilfried Bony to Manchester City.
Africa Cup of Nations title favourites Algeria got off to a winning start in Group C Monday with a come-from-behind 3-1 triumph over South Africa in Mongomo.
It was an impressive fightback by the Desert Foxes, who went top of the table on goal difference in the group of death after Senegal defeated Ghana 2-1 earlier.
Goals from Faouzi Ghoulam and Islam Slimani won a lively match for the top-ranked African team after a Thulani Hlatshwayo own-goal wiped out the lead Thuso Phala gave South Africa.
Tokelo Rantie wasted a great chance to double the advantage for Bafana Bafana (The Boys) almost immediately by firing a penalty over off the crossbar.
Algeria started with 11 of the squad that reached the second round of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and forced eventual champions Germany into extra time before bowing out.
South Africa had to do without suspended defensive colossus Erick Mathoho with Rivaldo Coetzee and Hlatshwayo manning the central positions.
The Desert Foxes were more impressive in the early exchanges, retaining possession and pushing forward without seriously troubling goalkeper Darren Keet. But when full-back Ghoulam was presented with a long-range free-kick opportunity, he fired the ball straight at the South African shot-stopper.
Striker Rantie from English second-tier league leaders Bournemouth was proving menacing at the other end and twice threatened the Algerians with his pace.
Captain Dean Furman came agonisingly close to ending the stalemate midway through the opening half by unleashing an explosive shot from outside the box.
Goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi got the slightest of touches to the rising, swerving shot and it proved crucial as the ball cannoned back into play off the crossbar.
Mbolhi twice rescued the Foxes as half-time approached, dispossessing Sibusiso Vilakazi and then blocking an Andile Jali shot with his leg.
A Rantie back-heel set up Phala to break the deadlock on 51 minutes with a close-range shot wide of Mbolhi. Then a Rantie spot-kick flew over off the crossbar after Aissa Mandi fouled Vilakazi.
Back came Algeria and Slimani was denied by Keet and then by the post. However, the North Africans scored twice within six minutes midway through the second half to turn the tide.
Hlatshwayo headed a cross into his own net and a fierce Ghoulam shot flew past Keet. An Algerian victory was wrapped up seven minutes from time as Keet allowed a Slimani shot to slip under his body and into the net.
Earlier Moussa Sow came off the bench to score three minutes into stoppage-time and earn Senegal a deserved 2-1 victory over Ghana.
The Black Stars failed to clear a long free-kick from Senegal goalkeeper and captain Bruno Coundoul and slick passing set up Sow for fire home from close range. Andre Ayew put Ghana ahead on 14 minutes from the penalty spot and Mame Diouf levelled just before the hour mark.