A golden generation of Ivory Coast soccer came to an unceremonious end Tuesday in Brazil, as a late penalty awarded to Greece knocked the Elephants out of the 2014 World Cup and ruined their last chance to make a splash on the international stage. The Ivorians have had arguably the most talented team in Africa for the past decade, only to underperform at major tournaments, a trend that has continued with their elimination Tuesday.
This was the third consecutive World Cup for this core group of Ivorians, led most notably by Didier Drogba, who for years has been the pre-eminent figure of African soccer and the leader of the continent’s most talented team. Of course, Ivory Coast were eliminated during the Group Stage of the World Cup in both 2006 and 2010 in large part because of a difficult draw, but they’ve also failed to win an African Cup of Nations Tournament with this golden generation of players, finishing as runners-up in both 2006 and 2012.
This World Cup was supposed to be different for them. Not only was this the last chance for this generation of players, giving them the motivation they needed, but also the Elephants were finally placed in a manageable group that they should have been able to advance out of.
It looked like things were finally coming together for the Ivory Coast before the Greeks were given a controversial penalty in stoppage time. History may show that the Elephants were cheated in the final minutes, but they have no one to blame but themselves for their failure to reach the knockout stage.
For all the talent that the Ivory Coast put on the field, they lacked team cohesion, and that became their eventual downfall. They barely had the conviction to finish two chances in their tournament-opening win against Japan, and then failed to repeat that feat in a crucial loss to Colombia.
In their final game, the Elephants allowed Greece to take a lead with a careless pass, and then after scoring the equalizer that forced the Greeks to chase after another goal, Ivory Coast failed to capitalize on several chances that could have put the game away.
Instead, the Elephants put them themselves in a position where one unlucky bounce of the ball or one bad call could mean the end of their tournament, and that’s exactly what happened. The end result is a golden generation of players ending their international careers a grand disappointment.