World Cup qualifying in Africa is never easy, but you would have been hard-pressed to guess that after seeing how Ivory Coast reached Brazil 2014. The Elephants punched their ticket to next summer’s tournament largely unscathed, boasting an undefeated overall record of 5-0-3.
WORLD CUP PROSPECTS
Time is running short for the Ivory Coast's aging stars – in particular Didier Drogba and the Toure brothers – but with a fairly kind draw, they still have a clear chance of getting out of the group stage for the first time in three attempts, and that will be the team's expectation. The Round of 16 is probably where it'll end, though, with a likely matchup against one of Italy, England or Uruguay looming.
GROUP C SCHEDULE
STARS TO WATCH
Didier Drogba, F, Galatasaray: Ivory Coast’s captain may be on the wrong side of 30, but he lived up to his reputation of being a powerful striker capable of finding the back of the net with regularity. The 35-year-old netted four goals in qualifying, tying him for second-most on the team.
Yaya Touré, M, Manchester City: The other four-goal scorer for the Elephants, Touré added some punch out of midfield. The Manchester City midfielder also contributed on the other side of the ball, helping his nation concede just seven times in eight games.
Kolo Touré, D, Liverpool: The older Touré brother helped lead a defense that posted three shutouts and never surrendered more than two goals in any game in qualifying. He also contributed to the offensive end with a goal in a draw with Morocco.
Sabri Lamouchi stepped into his first head-coaching gig in May 2012 and never looked back. The former France national team midfielder navigated the Ivory Coast through CAF qualifying, which is known for being tricky, with ease and learned a lot in the process.
Lamouchi, 42, might not have much managerial experience but his pedigree as a player indicates that he might be well-suited to coach. He played for several top European clubs in his time, including Inter Milan, Olympique Marseille and AS Monaco.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
WCQ record: 4-0-2, 14 pts. / 15 GF, 5 GA (first place in Africa’s Group C); 1-0-1 in playoff vs. Senegal / 4 GF, 2 GA
Ivory Coast took their four-team group in the second round of CAF qualifying by five points, a healthy margin considering only six games are played. The Elephants then defeated Senegal 3-1 in the first leg of their playoff series before suffering their most anxious moments of the campaign in the return leg that ended 1-1 thanks to a second-half stoppage-time goal from Salomon Kalou.
WORLD CUP HISTORY
The African heavyweights have made it to their third straight World Cup after never having reached the tournament prior to 2006. Still, Ivory Coast will be looking to avoid a repeat of their past performances, as they have yet to make it past the group stage.
Ivory Coast beat the US men’s national team in their only meeting, winning 5-2 in a match played in Saudi Arabia in October 1992. … They suffered a 4-1 loss to Mexico in a 2013 friendly played in East Rutherford, N.J., on Aug. 14. … Star forward Didier Drogba has repeatedly been linked in recent years with a move to MLS. … Just a handful of Ivorians players have played in MLS, with minimal impact. The most notable was former Birmingham City and Celtic defender Olivier Tébily, who played four times for Toronto FC in 2008.