Tactical preview of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations final - Ivory Coast vs Zambia

ZonalMarking.net's Michael Cox uses the FREE Africa Cup of Nations version of Stats Zone to preview Sunday's 2012 Africa Cup of Nations final... 

Francois Zahoui’s first big decision will be where to play Yaya Toure. In the 3-0 win over Equatorial Guinea, Toure was fielded as a deep midfielder in the first half, and he was little influence on the game. The Ivory Coast lacked invention from the centre of midfield, and improved once he moved further forward after the break.

In the 1-0 semi-final win over Mali, Toure started higher up and was probably the key player in the game. He provided the link between midfield and the front three, and was a goal threat himself – hitting the near post with a powerful drive.

It seems logical that Toure should be used high up the pitch, but Zahoui has favoured a very defensive, functional strategy so far, and he might use Toure in a more reserved role early on.

Zahoui’s selections have seen plenty of rotation throughout the tournament, with only the goalkeeper Boubacar Barry, centre-backs Kolo Toure and Sol Bamba, and Didier Drogba starting every game. Gervinho and Didier Zokora will also start, but the full-back positions are up for grabs, while there’s also the question of who will join Drogba and Gervinho in the front three.

Salomon Kalou is the favourite and the more experienced option – he also brings a good relationship with Drogba by virtue of them playing together for Chelsea. But former Leeds and Leicester star Max Gradel played well in the quarter-final win over Equatorial Guinea, and probably offers more of a different option – he comes short to pick up the ball, and the Ivory Coast need that link between midfield and attack.

The players’ dashboards reveal different patterns of play, although the biggest difference is that Kalou is more of a goal threat. In a final likely to be tight and tense, that might be crucial.

Zambia coach Hervé Renard’s first choice is about his main striker. Having played Emmanuel Mayuka upfront throughout the competition, he surprisingly brought in James Chamanga to play upfront in the semi-final win over Ghana. But that experiment lasted only until half time, with the score at 0-0.

Mayuka replaced him, and scored the winner with a lovely curling shot that went in off the far post, to secure progress to the final. Really, this should be a no-brainer – Mayuka is the right option, and the position of his passes received compared to Chamanga’s shows that his pace allows him to pick up the ball much closer to goal.

The second decision is more complex. Against Ghana, Renard went with two holding midfielders, Nathan Sinkala and Francis Kasonde, to give the side more structure in the middle of the pitch. The result of this was that clever midfielder Isaac Chansa was pushed out with, and tricky left winger Chisamba Lungu was only on the bench.

But then Zambia won the game having brought on Lungu down the left and pushed Chansa into his favoured central midfield position. Lungu made ground down the left and Chansa played the ball forward to Mayuka, who finished. The goal wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the substitutions that pushed Zambia back to the line-up they used in the quarter-final.

So does Renard play his best side, or the side that is more defensively disciplined? Getting Chansa into the game is key – as the diagrams show, he’s far more prominent in the centre than when played out wide, before the substitution against Ghana.

More ACoN analysis from Michael Cox: Wed 8 Feb Ghana's weakness and Ivorians' threatFri 3 Feb Deep forwards, midfield runners and the narrowest teamMon 30 Jan Botswana's goal peppered, Boussifi makes it count & Pitroipa's dribbling problemThu 26 Jan Ivory Coast fail to utilise Yaya as young Lass fails to show classFri 20 Jan How will Premier League strikers fare at the Africa Cup of Nations?

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