Lacina Traore

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.

Kolo Toure contracts malaria, while Drogba and Yaya are on target to return

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Ivory Coast and Liverpool defender Kolo Toure has developed a case of malaria and missed his country’s friendly against Bosnia & Herzegovina tonight.

Toure apparently picked up the illness while on a trip to his home city of Abidjan before making it to international camp in Dallas.

Team doctor Cyrille Dah said Toure is out for tonight and the weekend but “will be okay to return to training next week.”

“Since Wednesday Kolo has been having treatment and this treatment will end on Friday,” said Dah. “We have therefore told him to rest.

After playing much of the first two-thirds of Liverpool’s season, the 33-year-old defender rode the bench down the stretch as the Reds shot for the Premier League title, playing a total of five minutes in the club’s final 11 matches.

Iconic striker Didier Drogba is fully fit after minor groin surgery, according to the team, and is in the squad for tonight’s friendly, on the bench.  Drogba had the operation in Qatar at the end of April on club duty.

UPDATE: Drogba came on as a 63rd minute substitute for Lacina Traore, and scored without many of his supporting cast on the pitch, a great sign for his team and country.

In addition, Kolo’s brother Yaya Toure is on his way back from an unspecified injury that also required a minor procedure, done in Qatar.  He will join the squad in the United States tomorrow and will train with the target of returning for their next friendly in the States against El Salvador on Saturday in Dallas.

Everton loanee Gerard Deulofeu says he is likely to return to Barcelona

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Everton’s biggest conundrum this offseason is whether they should pile their resources in an attempt to make this season’s successful loan spells permanent, or return the players and look to replace them.

With Romelu Lukaku, Gerard Deulofeu, Gareth Barry, and Lacina Traore all on loan at Goodison Park this season, they combined to help the Toffees to an impressive fifth place.

However, they would struggle to replace the likes of Lukaku and Deulofeu, and their strategy going forward remains to be seen, and now it appears one decision will be made for them.

Spanish winger Gerard Deulofeu, on loan from Barcelona, said as much as he loved his time at Everton, his biggest hope is to return to Barcelona and compete for a spot.

“I would like to return to Barca and this is my first option,” Deulofeu told radio station RAC 1.

At just 20 years old, it’s conceivable that Deulofeu could come back to Everton for another year on loan if the Catalans decide he’s not ready for their level of expectations just yet.  He was used mostly as an impact winger by Roberto Martinez, and it was highly successful as he scored three goals and registered four assists in 25 appearances, 16 of them off the bench.

However, with Barcelona coming off a down year, plenty of changes should be expected and it’s that type of environment where Deulofeu could look to make an impact on the staff.

“I feel very happy with the season I have had at Everton and have great respect for Barcelona,” Deulofeu said. “I also know I have to wait until the end of the season and then we will see what happens. Now I have had a year on loan at Everton I am waiting to be told something. Nobody has said anything to me.”

Barcelona plays Atletico Madrid at the Nou Camp on Saturday in the final match of the season in the title-deciding match, and Deulofeu indicated he would be in attendence.

Chile, Ecuador and Ivory Coast release World Cup provisional squads, too

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The World Cup provisional rosters continue to roll in, with Chile, Ecuador and the Ivory Coast putting their groups out.

MORE: All the latest news on World Cup rosters

CHILE:

Arturo Vidal makes the 30-man despite a knee problem that forced him to undergo surgery late last week. Alexis Sanchez of Barcelona and Gary Medel of Cardiff City are two of the bigger names on the list.

Goalkeepers: Claudio Bravo (Real Sociedad), Johnny Herrera (Universidad de Chile), Cristopher Toselli (Universidad Catolica), Paulo Garces (O’Higgins).

Defenders: Gary Medel (Cardiff City), Gonzalo Jara (Nottingham Forest), Marcos Gonzalez (Union Espanola), Enzo Andia (Universidad Catolica), Jose Rojas (Universidad de Chile), Eugenio Mena (Santos), Mauricio Isla (Juventus).

Midfielders: Jorge Valdivia (Palmeiras), Felipe Gutierrez (Twente), Rodrigo Millar (Atlas), Jose Pedro Fuenzalida (Colo Colo), Pablo Hernandez (O’Higgins), Matias Fernandez (Fiorentina), Francisco Silva (Osasuna), Arturo Vidal (Juventus), Charles Aranguiz (Internacional), Marcelo Diaz (Basel), Carlos Carmona (Atalanta), Miiko Albornoz (Malmo).

Forwards: Alexis Sanchez (Barcelona), Esteban Paredes (Colo Colo), Eduardo Vargas (Valencia), Gustavo Canales (Union Espanola), Jean Beausejour (Wigan Athletic), Mauricio Pinilla (Cagliari), Fabian Orellana (Celta).

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ECUADOR:

The Ecuadorian squad is headlined by three Barcelona players (That’s the Ecuadorian club Barcelona before you get too fired up). Antonio Valencia of Manchester United will lead the squad into Brazil.

source:
Valencia

Goalkeepers: Maximo Banguera (Barcelona of Ecuador), Adrian Bone (El Nacional), Alexander Dominguez (Liga de Quito)

Defenders: Gabriel Achilier (Emelec), Walter Ayovi (Pachuca), Oscar Bagui (Emelec), Frickson Erazo (Flamengo), Jorge Guagua (Emelec), Juan Carlos Paredes (Barcelona of Ecuador), Cristian Ramirez (Fortuna Duesseldorf)

Midfielders: Segundo Castillo (Al Hilal), Carlos Gruezo (Stuttgart), Renato Ibarra (Vitesse Arnhem), Fidel Martinez (Tijuana), Cristian Noboa (Dynamo Moscow), Pedro Quinonez (Emelec), Luis Saritama (Barcelona of Ecuador), Antonio Valencia (Manchester United)

Forwards: Jaime Ayovi (Tijuana), Felipe Caicedo (Al-Jazira), Jefferson Montero (Morelia), Joao Rojas (Cruz Azul), Enner Valencia (Pachuca), Armando Wila (Universidad Catolica)

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IVORY COAST:

Tough and skilled, the Cote d’Ivoire team will trot out a number of world class midfielders and forwards. Yaya Toure and Cheick Tiote will form a hard-nosed tandem in the middle of the park, while the strike force includes a bevy of firepower that includes Gervinho, Wilfried Bony and Didier Drogba amongst others.

source: Getty Images
Bony

Goalkeepers: Boubacar Barry (Lokeren), Sylvain Gbohouo (Sewe Sport), Ali Sangare Badra (Asec Mimosas), Sayouba Sande (Stabaek).

Defenders: Kolo Toure (Liverpool), Sol Bamba (Trabzonspor), Didier Zokora (Trabzonspor), Serge Aurier (Toulouse), Arthur Boka (Stuttgart), Benjamin Angoua (Valenciennes), Ousmane Viera Diarrassouba (Caykur Rizespor), Constant Djakpa (Frankfurt), Brice Dja Djedje (Marseille), Jean-Daniel Akpa-Akpro (Toulouse).

Midfielders: Yaya Toure (Manchester City), Cheick Tiote (Newcastle), Serey Die (Basel), Max Gradel (Saint Etienne), Diomande Ismael (Saint Etienne), Didier Ya Konan (Hannover), Mathis Bolly (Dusseldorf).

Forwards: Gervinho (Roma), Didier Drogba (Galatasaray), Salomon Kalou (Lille), Wilfried Bony (Swansea), Seydou Doumbia (CSKA Moscow), Lacina Traore (Everton), Giovanni Sio (Basel)

Everton v. Manchester City – Will the Toffees give Liverpool a boost?

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Manchester City will look to take a major stride towards the Premier League title when they face Everton on Saturday (12:30pm ET on CNBC and streaming via Live Extra).

Manuel Pellegrini’s side enters the match three points adrift of league leaders Liverpool but with a game in hand and an 8 goal advantage to their name. That means anything but a win will do for the Citizens, who enter the match undefeated in their last three, having drawn 2-2 with Sunderland and beaten West Brom 3-1 and Crystal Palace 2-0.

Still an outside shot to finish in the Top 4, Everton have aspirations of their own. That target became a long shot last weekend when a lackluster performance against Southampton resulted in a 2-0 loss givien Arsenal the definitive upper hand to finish fourth. But if the Gunners succumb to two draws in their final two matches, two wins by Everton would see the Toffees take the prize.

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Gareth Barry is ineligible to play under the loan rules and injuries are expected to play a major part in the match. City will have David Silva available after recovering from a knee injury meaning only Jesus Navas (knee) and Matija Nastasic (knee) will be out. For Everton, Phil Jagielka is slated to return from his eight week absence due to a hamstring injury while Leighton Baines (knee) and Sylvain Distin (hamstring) could also feature. Kevin Mirallas (groin), Steven Pienaar (knee), Lacina Traore (hamstring), Bryan Oviedo (broken leg), Arouna Kone (knee) and Darron Gibson (knee) are all out.

What They’re Saying

Everton manager Roberto Martinez: “As a professional group and a team we represent Everton. That means we represent every single player that has played for Everton in the past and our work for the last 10 months. You wouldn’t come in now and not give your all to finish as good as you can.”

Manchester City Manuel Pellegrini: “We like to have the pressure to be one of the teams who can win the title. At the moment the motivation is very high, now it is important that the performance also must be high.”

Prediction

Something special has been going down in Merseyside this season and I don’t expect it will end without a bang. Look for Everton to get a result.