This is by no means the golden generation, but Cote d’Ivoire are one of those nations that just always seem to have talent running right the way through.
AFCON 2021: Cote d’Ivoire – Team guide, key players and full fixtures
All you need to know about the Elephants of Cote d'Ivoire ahead of AFCON 2021.
Not many teams in Africa can shrug off the unavailability of a player like Seko Fofana while maintaining a high base of quality, or for that matter leave out Torino’s dynamic full-back Wilfred Singo. With such an impressive squad to work with, the Elephants are certainly worth paying attention to in Cameroon.
Cote d'Ivoire made pretty easy work of getting there, finishing top of their qualifying group by winning four of their six Group K fixtures. Their only defeat came, rather surprisingly, at the hands of Ethiopia on the road. They come into this AFCON on the back of a disappointing 1-0 World Cup qualifying defeat to Cameroon, which denied them a place in the playoff round. They however boast six wins from their seven other competitive matches of 2021, and scored more than one goal in all of them.
According to FIFA's December ranking, Côte d'Ivoire are Africa's 10th-best team, and by that virtue, are 56th in the World.
The Elephants have appeared in 24 of 32 AFCON tournaments, and have two wins to their name. Both those triumphs came in penalty shoot-out victories over Ghana 23 years apart, the most recent coming in 2015. Cote d’Ivoire have finished third on four occasions, and as runners up two times.
The manager and tactical approach
Much of Patrice Beaumelle's coaching career has been spent assisting Herve Renard to two AFCON titles with Zambia and Cote d'Ivoire. This time, he has the big job, having taken charge in 2020. He shares Renard's preference for tailoring his tactical approach to the players available, and so has kept the 4-3-3 system built on the speed and flair the Elephants possess in wide areas, even though he has dabbled in a back three on occasion as well. Look for positional rotations in midfield and the wingers making the pitch as wide as possible.
In Sébastien Haller, Cote d'Ivoire have one of the hottest strikers in the world. However, as his contrasting fortunes at West Ham and Ajax show, he needs a system that plays to his strengths. Give him that and he knows where the goal is. A towering presence, he will be important in helping Beaumelle's side translate their territorial and midfield dominance into goals.
He will rely on supply mostly from the pair of Wilfried Zaha and Nicolas Pepe. As far as starting wide men go, this is as good a tandem as you will find in the competition, but getting them to fire at the same time is tricky. More consistent in his output for the Elephants is the veteran Max Gradel, who makes better, more consistent decisions and can fill in centrally or out wide. AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie is an energetic, powerful presence in the middle, and will look to dominate that space.
Bayer Leverkusen defender Odilon Kossounou is a superb centre-back already at just 21, and is only improving. While his level of involvement will be dependent on the durability of Eric Bailly, his strength in the tackle and ball-playing characteristics mean that Cote d'Ivoire wouldn't be missing out on too much if he were required to step in.
Badra Ali Sangare; Serge Aurier, Willy Boly, Eric Bailly, Ghislain Konan; Franck Kessie, Ibrahim Sangare, Jean Michael Seri; Nicolas Pepe, Sébastien Haller, Wilfried Zaha.
With the composition of Group E, Cote d'Ivoire really should be assured of a place in the top two. However, it is difficult to tell whether there would be any particular benefit to finishing top in this group, as the going is tough either way. A quarter-final finish seems a reasonable expectation for the Elephants.