Netherlands 2 Ivory Coast 1: Van Persie consigns Ivorians to early exit

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The Independent Online

The Ivory Coast brought rich talent and expectation into their first World Cup ­ they have delivered on both fronts and left an indelible mark with their commitment to effervescent attack, but the Group of Death has isolated its victim. The Elephants are in the graveyard.

Another memorable encounter involving the standard bearers for Africa, yet another 2-1 reverse means Henri Michel's team have collected only admirers in Germany so far and will be going home following their final game with Serbia and Montenegro next Wednesday. "Everyone tells me they think we are wonderful but I am not satisfied in the end," said the Frenchman.

"The only conclusion you can draw is that the Ivory Coast are not yet at a level with the strongest teams in the World Cup." Or truly unfortunate to land in a group with two nations who have announced their credentials in the most emphatic fashion, the Netherlands and Argentina, and not one where their pedigree would have seen them progress. Such as Group B.

For the opening 30 minutes the Ivory Coast were a pale imitation of the vibrant team that impressed in defeat against Argentina as a fluent performance from Marco Van Basten's men was rewarded with goals from the Premiership duo Robin Van Persie and Ruud Van Nistelrooy. The final hour, however, told a different story as the Netherlands discovered they have resilience to match their style by limiting their opponents to only one, wonderful consolation from Bakary Kone.

"We were excellent for half [an] hour, played good football and dominated, but we were too satisfied with ourselves and lost momentum. We are proud not to have conceded a second goal in view of incredible pressure," said Netherlands' coach Marco Van Basten.

The steely reserve that Kolo Touré and Emmanuel Eboué brought to the Arsenal defence last season was conspicuously absent as uncertainty initially plagued Ivory Coast and the Netherlands took advantage with a goal forged at Highbury in the 23rd minute. Touré conceded a free-kick with a reckless foul on Robin Van Persie, who recovered sufficiently to drive a fabulous set-piece into the top corner.

Four minutes later Arjen Robben embarked on a slalom run from the left and offered the under-fire Van Nistelrooy his chance for redemption. He seized it with a convincing finish inside Jean-Jacques Tizie's near post and was overcome with emotion as he celebrated the goal that justified Van Basten's decision not to drop the forward.

"For me that was the biggest goal of my career," said the United striker. "I have scored a lot of goals but this was different. I have watched the World Cup since I was a boy, this was my first goal at the World Cup and it feels fantastic."

Ivory Coast had offered little in response by that stage but from the moment Didier Zokora rattled Edwin Van der Sar's crossbar from 25 yards, belief returned and a contest began to be realised.

In the 37th minute, Kone accelerated away from two orange shirts and guided a shot into the top corner, but while Michel's team continued to dominate, their only threat of an equaliser in the second half came when Didier Drogba's header was blocked on the goal-line by Van Persie.

The dream was over, while the Netherlands celebrated as though they were about to be presented with the World Cup itself.

"I can understand their reaction," said Van Basten, not in the least embarrassed by the sight of grown men dancing the conga around the perimeter of the pitch.

"They are young and others have never played in a World Cup before. This was the Group of Death, but we have qualified after two games with a 100% record. That is cause for celebration," Van Basten added.

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