Debutants Ivory Coast gain vital experience
STUTTGART, June 17: Debutants Ivory Coast earned plaudits aplenty for stirring performances in their defeats to World Cup heavyweights, but have also gained one far more valuable commodity -- experience.
French coach Henri Michel, now in his fourth finals, said Argentina and the Netherlands had ultimately exposed his side's lack of it at the top level.
''Experience is a problem,'' Michel conceded after Friday's 2-1 loss to the Dutch in Stuttgart. ''It's a young team with very little experience of big competitions.'' Michel, who has coached France, Cameroon and Morocco at previous World Cups, felt his Ivory Coast side had been made to learn some cardinal World Cup rules.
Teams have to convert chances and they cannot afford to concede goals and play catch up, particularly against the best teams in the world.
In the group generally regarded as the toughest of this World Cup, the Ivory Coast went 2-0 down to both Argentina and the Dutch before shifting into top gear. In each game they pulled one back, leading to a rousing finale.
Michel said widespread praise for the quality of his team's football, while suggesting they had potential, could not mask the fact that they were ineffective and lacked a killer instinct.
''Playing well is a bonus. The result is always going to be the most important, as we've learned today,'' said his captain Didier Drogba.
Before they head home they have the Group C basement battle with Serbia&Montenegro, whose spirits are surely even lower than Ivory Coast's after they were thrashed 6-0 by Argentina.
Michel suggested he would use the game to blood a few more members of his young squad.
''You need to bow out with heads held high. In a match like this with no direct importance it is a chance to give other players an opportunity,'' he said.
Ivory Coast will certainly have to replace Drogba after the striker picked up his second yellow card of the tournament. Some of the squad insisted they were up for the final match.
Midfielder Romaric said the team could still learn from it.
''I think we've shown a lot of good things, even though we haven't had the results ... and we want to play really well in our last game,'' he said.
Ivory Coast can take heart that all the players they have used at the finals in Germany, apart from keeper Jean-Jacques Tizie, are under 30.
Midfielder Kanga Akale, while disappointed, could also look forward, saying he and his team mates had learned a lot and vowed to be back at the next World Cup in South Africa in 2010.