World Cup opening weekend: Five talking points, African edition

World Cup opening weekend: Five talking points, African edition

Ivory Coast came from behind to win while Cameroon became the first African team to lose to Mexico in a World Cup. Contrasting fortunes, contrasting play, but lots to talk about. ANTOINETTE MULLER looks back on the weekend’s opening matches.

For the purposes of this exercise, “weekend” will be defined as everything played up until Sunday. The South African public holiday saw Nigeria take on Iran and Ghana square off with the USA, but those games will get their own retrospective analysis tomorrow.

Cameroon and Ivory Coast were the two African sides playing and the two had very mixed fortunes. Cameroon lost 1-0 to Mexico, the first time ever Mexico had beaten an African team at the World Cup. Ivory Coast came from being 1-0 down to beat Japan 2-1 in their opener.

Those who managed to stay up for the late Ivory Coast kick-off had their persistence rewarded with an Ivory Coast comeback against Japan, while those who watched the Cameroon match probably wished they hadn’t. Here are five talking points from the opening games.

Bony over Drogba is actually not a bad idea

It surprised many to see Didier Drogba relegated from the starting line-up against Japan. When Japan opened the scoring, Drogba’s facepalm probably said what many must have thought when they saw the starting line-up. However, it’s not all such a bad idea.

Wilfried Bony is a feisty player, although nowhere near as talented as Drogba. Yet benching the 36-year-old probably doesn’t have anything to do with the coach not believing in his abilities. Although Drogba is a consummate athlete, it would be foolish to deny that he might struggle with the pace of so many games in such a short space of time. Not starting him ensures that Drogba is kept fresh and once he does come on, he does so against tired legs, avoiding the risk of players going at him full-tilt. Of course, benching somebody like Drogba will only serve to motivate him to perform. He didn’t score this time, but it won’t take long.

But Drogba is still a key player

In the same breath, it is impossible to deny Drogba’s influence. It took just a few minutes for Ivory Coast to equalise and then take the lead after Drogba came on. His mere presence is enough to strike fear into opponents and he is a great motivator for any team.

In the first half, Ivory Coast looked quite lost. For a team who has been through so much together, they looked as if they were communicating through a tin can telephone.

Slowly but surely that improved. The Elephants started off with the full backs sitting deep while Gervinho and Serge Aurier were pottering along the touchline. Still, it took until the 62nd minute before they created any real chances. Having switched to 4-4-2 with the introduction of Drogba, the full backs started pushing forward and, as if by magic, they converted those chances.

Serge Aurier is boss

A big part of creating those chances was whizz kid Serge Aurier. With the switched position, Aurier – a defender – pushed forward and whipped two balls across to set up the goals for Bony and Gervinho. Japan weren’t aware of his overlapping and were stuck in the middle for both goals. This is going to be a key part of Ivory Coast’s tactics in the next game against Colombia. Japan played in a very structured and organised manner, but a little bit of creativity led to their undoing.

What did Cameroon want their bonuses for, exactly?

Before the World Cup started, Cameroon’s players reportedly refused to board a plane to Brazil over bonus disputes. They wanted more money for the privilege of appearing at the World Cup. Not bonuses if they reached the next round or performed well – no, just a bonus for the privilege of being there. The dispute was resolved and off they went, but after their showing against Mexico, one has to wonder what exactly they wanted bonuses for? The team looked disjointed, out of ideas and generally quite average. Give credit to Mexico, sure, but overall, Cameroon were horrendous.

Did they have a game plan? Nobody knows. There was a complete lack of efficiency and when they needed to counter, there weren’t enough players going down the field to try to force them. It happened very, very late on in the game, but it was too little, too late by then.

The only solace for Cameroon is that they weren’t the worst team on the opening weekend. That award will go to Spain.

Not even Samuel Eto’o will be able to save the Indomitable Lions

Samuel Eto’o is the man who should be leading this team and inspiring them to push themselves further, but he looked his age on the pitch against Mexico. And just to make it even worse for the Lions, Eto’o is likely to miss the match against Croatia because of a knee injury. He’s missed the last two days of training and it’s highly unlikely that he will be fit in time for their next clash. DM

Photo: Didier Drogba (L) of the Ivory Coast celebrates a goal during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group C preliminary round match between the Ivory Coast and Japan at the Arena Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil, 14 June 2014. (EPA)


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