Les Elephants are Prindi's surprise pick to reach the final four.

World Cup team preview: Ivory Coast

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Getting to know…Ivory Coast: Possibly Africa’s strongest contender this year, Les Elephants have a strong squad but surprisingly a weak history as a soccer nation as far as results go.

The Ivory Coast has never escaped from the group stage of the World Cup, with this year being just their third go at the competition.  In addition, they’ve been relative newcomers on the African stage, with just one previous win in the African Cup of Nations (1992) and only in the past four competitions have they put together a string of deep runs.

However, if there’s one knock on the Ivorian team, it’s that years of building from the ground up has seen it run with a core group of players for years now, and that core is aging. The Toure brothers Kolo and Yaya are 33 and 31 respectively, and while the younger of the two seems to just be peaking now, he too may not have many years left on the international stage.

But there is also relief coming.  Wilfried Bony looks poised to take 36-year-old Didier Drogba’s place once the ageless wonder finally calls it quits, with Lacina Traore there to add another young attacking threat as well.  While he’s often a red card waiting to happen, midfield enforcer Chieck Tiote is there to help Yaya Toure if his legs do indeed tire.

It’s a strong squad, both literally and figuratively, and the typically African style of play could take them to new heights in Brazil.

Record in qualifying: The Ivorians dominated its CAF qualification group of Morocco, Tanzania, and Gambia, going undefeated throughout group play with four wins and two draws.  In the knockout round they drew Senegal, and a 3-1 home victory in the first leg gave them room to work with, and they put Senegal down with a 1-1 draw in the second leg. Salomon Kalou finished the competition with five goals, one behind the leading tally of six.

A look at Group C: Ivory Coast could be Africa’s strongest squad, but they also have the best chance to advance for another reason: their group is, at first glance, soft.  It’s not “easy” as there are no easy groups once you get to the big show, but is doesn’t seem to be powerful.  Colombia is facing a defensive crisis, Greece possibly overperformed during UEFA qualification, and Japan has a few top talents but as a team isn’t exactly a contender.

The Elephants have their own issues to deal with, but they look poised for the knockout round should they capitalize on their less challenging group.

Game schedule:

14 June, 21:00 ET, Recife: Ivory Coast vs. Japan
19 June, 12:00 ET, Brasilia: Colombia vs. Ivory Coast
24 June, 16:00 ET, Fortaleza: Greece vs. Ivory Coast

source: Getty Images
Yaya Toure may now be the Ivory Coast’s best player, but it’s impossible to forget about Didier Drogba and his storied career.

Star player: Yaya Toure

Fresh off winning the Premier League title, Manchester City’s Yaya Toure is looking now to lead his country to success as well.  With Didier Drogba likely on the final legs of his international career, the 36-year-old has shown his age this past year at Galatasaray, and it’s Toure’s time to assert his dominance in the midfield.

He’s known for his midfield presence, his incredible precision, and his free kicks, but there’s no doubt that Toure can score goals.  He has a cannon of a right foot, and with 20 goals for City last season, Toure will look to add to Drogba and Bony’s production up front.  With Toure giving defenders yet another body to think about, this attack is dangerous if it fulfills its potential.

Manager: Sabri Lamouchi

French-born and of Tunisian descent, the Ivory Coast position is Lamouchi’s first managerial job after a successful European career came to an end in 2009.  Lamouchi spent time as a player at Monaco, Inter, and Marseille before finishing up in the Qatari league.  He also earned 12 caps for the French national team.

The 42-year-old was appointed just a week before World Cup qualifying began in 2012, but assimilated well into the fold and kept his country from faltering as the continent’s number 1 seed. It was a curious appointment at the time, considering his predecessor Francois Zahoui had just led the Ivory Coast to the finals of the African Cup of Nations, losing to Zambia.  Discussions began to keep Zahoui, the first and only Ivorian to ever coach the team, at the helm but those negotiations broke down and Lamouchi was brought in.

Lamouchi has admitted the hardest part of his job at the moment is taking a squad of players all at completely different fitness levels after the club season and getting them to work together while also leveling out their fitness.  However, his

Secret Weapon: Experience

Experience is often used as a euphemism for “age” and in this case that’s not totally untrue, but it’s impossible to ignore the international careers of many in the squad.  Defenders Kolo Toure and Didier Zokora both have over 100 caps, as does Didier Drogba up front, but those aren’t the only experienced members.

Gervinho and Salomon Kalou both have over 50 caps and are both 27 and 28 respectively, and both are coming off positive club seasons – Gervinho in particular.  Cheik Tiote, Sol Bamba, and Seydou Doumbia all have World Cup experience and are under the age of 30.  This is a team that has been here before, and that should absolutely help them overcome a few weaknesses.

Prediction: Given the opportunity of a softer group, the Ivorians take advantage.  Signs point to a letdown from Greece, and that should allow Côte d’Ivoire to leapfrog and earn their first-ever knockout round berth.

Mangala replaces Mathieu in France squad

PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 03:  Kolbeinn Sigthorsson of Iceland and Eliaquim Mangala of France compete for the ball during the UEFA EURO 2016 quarter final match between France and Iceland at Stade de France on July 3, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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PARIS (AP) Barcelona defender Jeremy Mathieu has been removed from the France squad for upcoming World Cup qualifiers for an unspecified reason.

[ MORE: What’s Arsenal’s best XI in the Arsene Wenger era? ]

The French football federation gave no explanation for coach Didier Deschamps’s decision to replace Mathieu with Eliaquim Mangala, only saying he made the move “following a discussion” with the Barcelona player. Mangala is currently on a season-long loan at Valencia from Manchester City.

France takes on Bulgaria on Oct. 7 at the Stade de France before traveling to Amsterdam to play the Netherlands three days later in Group A.

Report: FA chief reveals Allardyce could be charged in scandal

TRNAVA, SLOVAKIA - SEPTEMBER 04:  Sam Allardyce manager of England looks on prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Group F qualifying match between Slovakia and England at City Arena on September 4, 2016 in Trnava, Slovakia.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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While England continues its search for the country’s next manager, Sam Allardyce‘s troubles with the FA roll on as well.

[ MORE: Redknapp was reportedly aware of former players betting ]

On Friday, FA chief executive Martin Glenn revealed that “it is realistic [Allardyce] could be charged” by the football governing body for his alleged role in an English corruption scandal.

Allardyce was relieved of his duties as England manager on Tuesday following a release of information from the Telegraph.

“The newspaper that made the revelations are releasing the full transcripts to the police, which is what has to happen,” said Glenn. “Once we get full access to them, we’ll pass them to our Integrity Unit. We’ve dealt with Sam as an employee. Sam’s role as a participant in the game will be part of this next process, if there is one.

“The decision will be based on the merits of the evidence. Bringing the game into disrepute might be a possible charge.

“A potential sanction could range from a fine to a ban. That’s what history shows. But that is for a tribunal to decide.”

Additionally, Glenn stated that interim England manager Gareth Southgate could be in consideration for the permanent job pending how he and the national team fare with its upcoming fixtures.

“I think Gareth is a genuine contender, but this isn’t an audition,” Glenn stated.

England: Telegraph alleges Redknapp knew of players betting on matches

AMMAN, JORDAN- MARCH 22: Jordan's latest manager Harry Redknapp speaks during a joint press conference with the president of the Jordan Football Association, Prince Ali Bin Al Hueesin ahead their World Cup qualifiers on March 22, 2016 in Amman, Jordan. Redknapp, the former Tottenham manager has signed a two-game deal to take charge of Jordan's 2018 qualifying matches against Bangladesh on Thursday and Australia next week. (Photo by Jordan Pix/ Getty Images)
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In the wake of Sam Allardyce‘s firing from his post as England manager, the fallout continues to be immense.

[ MORE: Everton, Palace finish scoreless at Goodison Park ]

English media outlet The Telegraph released several details regarding Allardyce’s role in bribery and corruption that could be widespread amongst the English football community.

On Friday, the Telegraph again released information pertaining to another high-profile English manager, however, this time it’s Harry Redknapp that reportedly knew of illegal goings-on when he was managing in the Premier League.

The newspaper alleges that the 69-year-old was aware of his own players betting on matches, including those that they were involved in. Friday’s report reveals undercover journalists filming a conversation between Redknapp and agent Dax Price, as the two men discuss one match in particular that the players had told Price could be very profitable for him given the favorable odds.

From the Telegraph:

“[Player A from Redknapp’s team] phoned me and said remortgage your house ’cause the odds were mental, they were 5/2 at the time,” Price said.

“All my family lumped on, we lumped on, I phoned him after 15 minutes because you had put, you put a good, you put a great side out as well, you put the best side out, and, um, I spoke to [opposition player], he was sitting in the stand… and he went, ‘[Redknapp’s side] ain’t touched the ball yet, first 15 minutes’, and the game ended up [with Redknapp’s side winning].”

Under FA laws, Redknapp would have needed to notify the governing body regarding his players’ actions.

While the Telegraph has left out specific details in the investigation, including teams, player names and particular matches, the FA has reportedly asked that the newspaper hand over all of its information as the England’s football federation looks into the various allegations brought up by the outlet.

In addition to Redknapp’s reported knowledge of his players placing bets, the Englishman was also recorded in discussing third-party ownership of players, which is illegal under both FIFA and FA laws.

“Yeah, absolutely, any way I could help, you know,” Redknapp replied. “Listen I put my money where my mouth is and all you know, if you, if you’re gonna buy players, now, if I’m involved in picking the players then I don’t mind having an investment and having a little bit of a, you know, not a thing obviously but you know, I’d put a few quid in and take a chance with you. I need something to do with my money as well, don’t I? Can’t be fairer than that can you?”

 

 

Everton 1-1 Crystal Palace: Benteke finish keeps Eagles unbeaten in last five

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 30:  Yannick Bolasie of Everton takes on Damien Delaney of Crystal Palace during the Premier League match between Everton and Crystal Palace at Goodison Park on September 30, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Both clubs came into Friday’s meeting with a lot to play for, but finishes on both sides of halftime forced Everton and Crystal Palace to settle for a 1-1 draw at Goodison Park.

[ MORE: Liverpool looks to remain hot on Saturday vs. Swansea ]

The visitors pulled level just five minutes after the halftime whistle as Christian Benteke rose to meet Joel Ward’s cross. The summer signing did well to generate enough power to nod the ball towards the far post, but Palace nearly took the lead just minutes later.

[ MORE: Chelsea travels to Hull as both clubs look to halt poor form ]

Ward was at it again down the right flank in the 56th minute, when he played in a perfect cross to Damien Delaney. Despite another timely header and finish, the goal was called back for offsides, keeping the two teams level once more.

Romelu Lukaku‘s first PL free kick goal gave the hosts a thrilling lead before halftime as the Belgian striker put Everton ahead in the 35th minute.

Palace wasn’t too thrilled with the decision to award the set piece after the half hour had gone, but Damien Delaney was the man called for the foul on Phil Jagielka just outside of the penalty area.

The Toffees move up to third place in the PL with Friday’s result, while Palace remain seventh on 11 points.