Côte d’Ivoire exited the Africa Cup of Nations 2013 through the back door, eliminated in the quarter finals by Nigeria, who beat the Elephants on the score of 2-1.
Sabri Lamouchi’s men made a positive start to the South African edition of the tournament, already securing first place in their Group D after their second match with two successive victories against Togo (2-1) and Tunisia (3-0).
Their performance against the Sparrow hawks of Togo was far from perfect, but the mastery shown by the Elephants against the Eagles of Carthage considerably reinforced their status as tournament favourites.
Their third clash was far from the same standard in a match with nothing at stake, but the Côte d’Ivoire B team nevertheless showed strong character when they fought back from two goals down against an Algerian outfit that had already been eliminated.
And then Nigeria arrived in the quarter final.
Against the Super Eagles, the Ivoirian stars showed some febrility and nervousness and never managed to develop their game.
Yaya Touré showed little inspiration in his role as playmaker in the midfield, Salomon Kalou failed enormously in his finishes and Gervinho did not manage to make his usual breaks at the heart of the adverse defence.
And Didier Drogba, who had shown an obvious lack of rhythm since the start of the competition, made no impact leading the Ivoirian attack.
The Elephants’ defence was weak against the devastating Nigerian counter-attacks, and they let Sunday Mba cross half the pitch to score the qualifying goal, while Copa was alas not displaying one of his habitual brilliant performances.
This is an enormous disappointment for the golden generation of Ivoirian football, who have been after this trophy since 2006, when they lost to host country Egypt in a penalty shootout in the final.
Seven years later in South Africa, ten players still survived from that Egyptian campaign, most of whom had also suffered elimination in the 2008 semi-finals, in the 2010 quarter-finals and again in the final in 2012, before this ultimate failure under the skies of Rustenburg (Copa Barry, Emmanuel Eboué, Kolo Touré, Didier Zokora, Arthur Boka, Yaya Touré, Salomon Kalou and Didier Drogba).
Could Sabri Lamouchi’s first defeat at the head of Côte d’Ivoire signify the tolling of the bell for this super-talented, yet empty-handed golden generation, for good?