As well as winning games with Celtic and making some moves in the transfer market I had my first real test as manager of the Ivory Coast in the African Cup of Nations in January.
The African Cup of Nations starts with four groups of four teams with the top two qualifying for the quarter finals. Each team plays each other once in the host nation, held in (co-incidentally for those following real life news) Libya.
You may remember I was in Group D with Cameroon (current African Cup of Nations champions), Ghana (4th best African Nation in the world rankings) and Uganda (a real with only two “real” players).
Lets look game by game.
We started off on the group with a tough game against Ghana. I knew my newly picked squad would need to get off to a great start against my fellow title contenders.
As you can see both teams lined up in very attacking formations – Ghana playing 3 up front while I had an attacking strategy set in my 442.
It was an eventful game to say the least.
Two bookings, a sending off, a late injury, lots of shots on goal and an injury time goal all included.
Although I started off the game playing an Attacking strategy, I had to change to a Controlling strategy early on as Ghana had plenty of possession and chances. This, along with using Short instead of Direct passing and Exploiting the Flanks seemed to work for 84 minutes as I took a two goal advantage. There were good performances throughout the squad too as shown below.
But on the 84th minute things went a bit crazy.
You’ll see I made two substitutions on the 68th minute, replacing the tired Tiene and Traore (who despite his 7.0 rating wasn’t playing particularly well). I had one sub left in case of injury or another tired player.
At the 80th minute, I replaced the very tired Gervinho who is going to be a key player for me.
On the 84th minute, Yaya Toure made a crazy challenge, deep in the opponents half and was given a straight red. I’ve no complaints about the referee’s decision, but what on Earth was Toure thinking? I’d made all three substitutions and was stuck playng a 432 for the last 6 minutes of game time.
On the 86th minute, Seydou Doumbia got injured by Michael Essien putting me down to 9 men. By now I had every defensive option chosen on the quick shouts along with Contain strategy and most players on Defensive duty. There were 4 minutes of injury time to be added so I faced 8 minutes with 9 men against a strong Ghana side.
Needless to say they scored in injury time but thankfully the 2-1 win was secured.
Meanwhile Cameroon only beat Uganda 1-0, a surprising result due to the difference in quality between the two teams.
Uganda have done well to make this tournament but must’ve died when they saw the group they were given. I’m hoping for a long run in this competition and with this in mind I rested the team that played Ghana as this is likely to be my only opportunity to do so.
Uganda wisely packed the midfield and centre of defense to try and prevent my better players getting space.
Unfortunately for Uganda it didn’t quite work out and we still created plenty of chances, scoring three. The players mostly played well with Gilles Yapi Yapo showing I was right to include him with two goals and a man-of-the-match performance.
Abraham Guie Guie was quite poor though and I ended up playing Gervinho up front for the last three minutes because I only had two fit strikers with Doumbia’s injury adding to Drogbas.
Meanwhile Cameroon recorded another slender 1-0 victory over Ghana. After the game I got good news – we’d qualified already!
But I still wanted to beat Cameroon – they were the yardstick for the tournament.
I should’ve really paid attention to Cameroon’s formation and previous matches. They played what I remember being quite an old Italian style which emphasizes strength in defense with quick counter attacks.
What happens when two evenly matched teams meet, one plays attacking the other packs the defense and hits on the break?
Tactical aficionados will note that this is textbook counter attacking to be used against creative attacking sides. And this is the result, we were well beaten!
Why? The answer is simple. We had lots of the ball but couldn’t get shots on target – we only managed two out of thirteen. Over half our shots were off target and many were blocked or from long range. This is what a packed defense does.
Cameroon were setup to expect my team to attack and have lots of possession. They sat deep and packed the defense then threw the ball up field to a quick, fit, agile and (most importantly) clever Samuel Eto’o who knew where to make his runs and was composed enough to take two of his four chances (and the other two were on target)!
The tactical nature of the game was reflected in the player ratings.
My Ivory Coast players did not have the space or time to play as they normally would, so inevitably they played poorly. Cameroon on the other hand did their job extremely well and all their players played well. Another sad aspect of this game is that Traore is out injured for 6-8 weeks and will miss the rest of the tournament.
I’m going to take this on the chin and learn. I cannot play an attacking game against excellent sides, even if I believe I’m a little better. This is a lesson not only for managing the Ivory Coast, but Celtic too.
The group stage finished like this.
So I still qualified but I’ll learn my lesson about tactics.
The quarter final draw has been kind to me, drawing me against the 42nd best team in the world – Morocco. I’m in 15th so one would hope I will beat them.
The game takes place on the 4th of February 2013 for me so I may provide a small update for just that game.
Injuries / Suspensions
Didier Drogba is now back from injury – you see he got some game time against Cameroon but I’m not sure how fit he will be for the rest of the tournament. This is the gamble I chose to make so here’s hoping it doesn’t backfire.
Lacina Traore is out for 6-8 weeks as I’ve mentioned above. He has a sprained ankle. This is a big loss to my side with no replacements allowed.
Centre back Zoro is also injured with a sprained ankle and although he is only out for 3-4 weeks he will also miss the rest of the tournament.
Yaya Toure has still another match of his suspension to sit out.