Lone Star, Elephants Key Individual Battles
By Wleh Bedell
The epic clash involving the Lone Star of Liberia and the champions of Africa, the Elephants of the Ivory Coast on this Friday, November 13, 2015 is expected to also draw some intriguingly key individual battles as both sides will try to outdo each other in this World Cup qualifier showdown.
Since their first meeting way back on June 30, 1965, where the West African neighbors have gone to play against each other 13 times and the Ivoirians having the bragging rights of ten wins out of 13 meetings, the Lone Star have never beaten their Eastern neighbors with just three draws.
Albeit, both sides have never met since that goalless friendly in Abidjan where a certain Fallah Johnson came to the lime light on June 16, 1995. The Lone Star faithful say they have made tremendous progress since then, and with the latest string of impressive results against the likes of Tunisia and Cape Verde, something the Elephants French Coach Michel Dussuyer is weary of, the individual battles on Friday will be key as both sides will be itching for an almost perfect game.
Besides the goalkeepers who may not have any direct opponent, all other players on the park will have to be in a great form for the fray. In goal for the visitors, the 27 year old, 11 capped African champion club TP Mazembe shot stopper Sylvain Gbohouo is expected to be between the sticks with Lone Star hoping young goalkeeper Tommy Songo will be at an imperious best against the Elephants.
The Lone Star are expected to implore their usual 4-4-2 with the
Elephants their alternative 4-2-3-1.
The Individual Battles
Serge Aurier vs Anthony Laffor
The 22 year old Paris St. Germain right back is no doubt in a league of his own as far as performance of players in similar position on the continent is concerned. The former Boca Juniors, Barcelona and Man city youth player who gave soon to be dethroned World Footballer of the year Cristiano Ronaldo a run for his money when PSG met Real Madrid in the UEFA champions league double header, is a very aggressive defender who is never shy of going forward.
His pace, aggression and crosses are his main strength, but the 30 year old Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa winger, Anthony Laffor, is a tested proponent, having already gone head to head with some of Africa’s greats including Geremie N’jitap Fotso, there should be no problem in battling the PSG man who has won 25a caps for the Ivory Coast.
Laffor can track back quite well with regularity as he is a harder worker and could do so to squeeze the wings against Aurier. Besides, he is quick and could just exploit the space left opened by the adventurous fullback when racing for goal. Aurier can attack well, Laffor can defend well, but when Aurier overlaps, the space could be used by Laffor. Though a holding midfielder is expected to provide cover for the Ivorian. In all, Aurier loves to rampage forward which could leave a hole for him in his position and when a holding midfielder goes to provide cover, one of the Lone Star front two and the attacking midfielder could just race in the final third to make things difficult. Expect a very tactical duel between Laffor and his marker.
Remember, as a right footer on the left flank, Laffor will always be keen to cut inside which will be on Serge Aurier’s weaker left foot. An interesting battle to see indeed.
Arthur Boka vs Zah Krangar- Recalled by Coach Michel Dussuyer, the 32 year old, 81 capped full back Boka, from Spanish Premier Division club Malaga is another offense oriented player who loves to go forward quite often. He is as well very aggressive, but at times stand accused of being too flashy as a defender. Against the 30 year old diminutive Zah Krangar who is one of Coach Debbah’s trusted stars, and has since being tested against the likes of Geremie Njitap Fotso, Efe Ambrose and others, the Malaysian club Fidel player is not the constant dribbler, but the simple passer whose intelligence, subtle moves and discipline has kept him in the team. Boka will rage forward despite the situation in providing the crosses, but the trickery of Zah which can culminate into a sumptuous defense splitting pass could spell danger for Mr. Boka whose intimidating style of the strong and rugged football could land him in the referee’s book as he is never shy of throwing in the tackles.
William Jebor vs Ousmane Viera- With a hat-trick to his name against Guinea-Bissau Wild Dogs, the first ever Lone Star player to do so, the 24 year old five capped Jebor on loan from Portuguese club Rio Ave to Spanish outfit Ponferradina is in hot red vein of form to take on the 28 year old ten capped rearguard from Turkish club Rizespor. Jebor’s power could make life difficult for Viera who is however not a weak link despite not being an out and out regular. His tough marking and telling balls makes him a dependable and with his ability to often engage an opponent in intimidating fashion coupled with his aerial power, he is expected to have a battle to remember with Jebor.
Dioh Williams vs Jean Daniel Akpa Akpro- The lanky but skillful forward who is expected to play off Jebor in driving with the ball at his feet and exchange passes with Jebor, is expected to have a date with the intelligent midfielder cum defender Akpro of French club Toulouse. The 23 year old six capped player loves to build from the back and is good at interception as his good reading of the game gives his team quality in organizing things and playing with patience. But, the 31 year old Dioh is a technically gifted forward who is never afraid to take on an opponent, and his knack for goal as well makes him a tricky opponent for the towering Ivorian.
Geoffrey Serey Die vs Sam Johnson-The 31 year old 20 capped midfield biter of German Bundesliga club Eintracht Frankfurt is a useful pivot for the African champions as his tiger-like marking and link up play in sitting and even moving forward gives him the edge in most battles. But against the new machine man, Sam Johnson at age 21, it is expected to be a gladiator-like duel with the Liberian striker cum midfielder trying to keep rein on the midfielder who is an imposing figure.
Ismael Diomande vs Patrick Gerhardt- Though Gerhardt and his marker will also be keen to stop the opposing strikers, they will also be required to contest against each other and the 24 year old six capped midfield enforcer from French club Nice will be keen to disrupt the Lone Star build up that will be initiated by the 30 year old Gerhardt of Malaysian club Sarawak. Also, the 23 year old two capped St. Etienne midfielder Ismael Diomande is expected to be in the thick of the battle with both Gerhardt and Johnson which will make it a dicey contest.
Solomon Grimes vs Gervais Yao Kouassi- Having being tested against the likes of Salomon Olembe, Diomansy Camara, Sadio Mane and Victor Moses, the 28 year old Solomon Grimes of Nea Salamis of Cyprus is a defender who should know what to expect from the 28 year old, 71 capped, 20 goals international from Italian club AS Roma who is arguably Africa’s best dribbler, Gervinho. The lanky winger loves to run at opponents as he combines speed with skills to menacing effect and also picks the pockets of the opposition. Solo will not go forward quite often with just the diagonal balls being provided. And with his right foot cutting inside on Solo’s weaker left foot where he can tee up a teammate or give a shot for goal, Gervinho is expected to be a handful as he is difficult to mark but not impossible to stop.
Adolphus Marshall vs Giovanni Sio-The Indonesian based full back who is on trial in Portugal is an uncompromising defender who is gifted with the power to provide the long balls. His strong left foot and lithe marking will make an interesting battle with the Rennes 26 year old six capped forward who loves to strike from range and also run at opponents.
Kohn Dirkir Glay/ Teah Dennis vs Seydou Doumbia- It is not directly a 2 vs 1 situation though, but with the 29 year old, 31 caps, five goals striker from CSKA Moscow expected to be alone upfront, Dirkir Glay will be involved with containing him. Strong, bullish and loves to go alone on the counter, but with Dirkir’s loving of just clearing the ball in rather uncharacteristic fashion coupled with his aerial power, it is expected to be another interesting one. Teah is the more intelligent rearguard who will be keen to use his calmness to contain the big Ivorian. Hitherto, Doumbia will have support from the likes of Gervinho, Diomande and Sio with Gerhardt, Marshall and Grimes also expected to cluster the area.