Ivory Coast fail to utilise Yaya as young Lass fails to show class

We are part of The Trust Project What is it?'s Michael Cox uses the FREE Africa Cup of Nations version of Stats Zone to analise the action from the first few days of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations...

Versatility has always been key feature of Yaya Toure’s game – he’s able to play anywhere down the centre of the pitch; as a number ten, a box-to-box midfielder, a holding player or even as a centre-back, where he lined up for Barcelona in the 2009 Champions League final.

In the Ivory Coast’s 1-0 win over Sudan in their opening game of the current Africa Cup of Nations, he was in theory playing as the most attacking of the three central midfielders, ahead of Jean-Jacques Gosso and Chieck Tiote, and behind the attacking triumvirate of Salomon Kalou, Gervinho and Didier Drogba.

But the positions of his passes received demonstrates how deep he came to get the ball, which may have turned Ivory Coast into something of a broken team, with no link between midfield and attack. Toure attempted to motor forward and score himself, but all three of his attempts were off target.

Lass – real name Alhassane Bangoura – is one of the brightest young talents in African football. The Guinea forward plays in Spain with Madrid-based Rayo Vallecano, and has made a good impact at club level this season by providing the running that veteran forward Raul Tamudo can no longer get through, in an energetic Rayo side. He is naturally a winger, although can be deployed upfront in order to provide Asamoah Gyan-style runs into the channels.

But Lass didn’t enjoy a good opening game in the 1-0 defeat to Mali, and was arguably trying to do too much himself. Both of his shots were off target, and from the five times he tried to dribble past an opponent, he was tackled on four occasions.

Gabon’s defence was highly impressive in their 2-0 opening round win against Niger, with the centre-back pairing of Bruno Ecuele Manga and Remy Ebanega particularly dominant in the air.

It was notable how high up the pitch they made clearances, keeping a high line and pushing the Niger defence away from goal. Ebanega was the more proactive of the two, making more clearances, which occurred slightly higher up the pitch than his partner’s.

Manga, who was Laurent Koscielny’s replacement at Lorient in France, shows many of the qualities of his predecessor, calmly reading the game rather than diving into tackles.

Another relative unknown to have made a significant impact in the opening round of matches was Abubakr al Abaidy, even though his Libya side were defeated by Equatorial Guinea. Al Abaidy, playing as a left-back, completed more passes than any other player on the pitch and was a real force bombing down the left wing.

He also showed good defensive awareness, making five interceptions to break up Equatorial Guinea attacks. More impressive performances like this, and he might find himself being linked with a move to a more prestigious club – he currently plays for Nasr in his home country.

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