World Cup: Greece vs. Ivory Coast preview

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Jun 4, 2014; Frisco, TX, USA; El Salvador head coach Albert Roca talks with Ivory Coast midfielder Yaya Toure (19) before the game at Toyota Stadium. Ivory Coast defeats El Salvador 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Ivory Coast 

MLS Content: None 

2014 World Cup Record: One win, one loss. 3Pts (2-1 win over Japan, 2-1 loss to Colombia)

Player to Watch: Yaya Toure

With Didier Drogba coming off of the bench for Ivory Coast as a super sub in attack, Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure has finally became the leader and face of the National Team after being arguably the best African player over the past few years, developing from a promising midfielder into one of the best in the world and winning two EPL titles in the past three seasons in Manchester.

Toure’s mix of quality all around play and underrated dribbling ability has been on display in both of Ivory Coast’s matches in Brazil, but the new captain of Les Elephants has yet to break through to score a goal. That could change in this contest with Greece, as Toure will be the midfield advantage all by himself. A class above whoever starts in the middle of the pitch for Greece, Toure’s presence will be one that his opponents will have to account for at all times. As always, Toure’s skill on the ball, and the amount of time he has it will make him a player that fans will be forced to watch often whenever Ivory Coast plays. Something that is a blessing based on the skill that the 31 year old possesses.

X-Factor: Wilfried Bony 

Didier Drogba’s replacement in the Ivory Coast Starting XI for the first two matches of the World Cup, Swansea’s Wilfried Bony has been thrown into the spotlight and has had mixed results in replacing the most famous and beloved player in the country in Drogba.

Against Japan, Bony was a hero, scoring the equalizer in their 2-1 win. Looking electric once Drogba subbed onto the pitch, Bony’s first World Cup goal couldn’t have came at a better time as when things were looking bleak for Ivory Coast a header from Bony on a wonderful cross from Serge Aurier turned the momentum in their direction. Allowing Ivory Coast to make the eventual comeback that has them a result away from the knockout rounds.

However Bony was less effective against the Colombians, getting subbed off after just 60 minutes on the pitch for Drogba after a performance in which the 25 year old looked less dangerous and perhaps overwhelmed by a motivated Colombia backline that had already stifled Greece. Bony’s performance, and Drogba’s obvious impact off of the bench as well as his popularity has led to questions about who should start at striker in the match against Greece. A question that is answered by most with Drogba’s experience getting the nod over Bony’s superior athleticism and stamina over the 36 year old Drogba.

If Bony does start over the beloved Drogba once again, the spotlight will again be on the relatively young and inexperienced Bony to put forth a performance that justifies his inclusion in the Starting XI over one of the best scorers of an era. Should Bony be able to reward manager Sabri Lamouchi’s decision to go with the fresher legs to start the match, Ivory Coast’s chances of seeing the Round of 16 will be even greater.

Key to the Match: Defending 

For all of Ivory Coast’s talent in the midfield and in attack, there is still something to be desired in the back for Les Elephants which came to light in their 2-1 loss to Colombia. Other than the emergence of fullback Serge Aurier, Ivory Coast’s no name defenders haven’t done much to dismiss critics who once again pointed to the lack of world class defenders as something that could cause Ivory Coast their downfall at the World Cup.

Against Colombia, Ivory Coast defenders conceded sloppy corner kicks and were eventually punished by James Rodriguez. Minutes later Serey Die turned the ball over trying to dribble through multiple Colombian players near the halfway line, leading to an easy second goal that proved to be the difference between a 1-1 draw and a 2-1 loss after Gervinho scored for Ivory Coast to start a comeback that was too little too late after their defensive collapse.

Luckily for Ivory Coast, Greece have the worst attack in Group C (more on that later) and should allow a backline that will want to redeem themselves by getting the needed result to advance. With the underrated dribbler in Samaras likely to test Ivory Coast’s tackling ability more than once it won’t be a cakewalk for defenders, but if Ivory Coast can continue to keep Greece off the World Cup scoresheet on their way into the knockout stages the concerns over their talent not extending to defense will be relieved.