The Elephants have come a long way from the heady days when the likes of Aruna Dindane and Kader Keita could not get a starting spot in the national team, but they've not moved in the right direction.
No disrespect to the current crop, but in the noughties, and indeed for the first half of the 2010s, Ivory Coast went to the Africa Cup of Nations as one of the favourites, based entirely on their depth and star power. It feels odd now to have the discussion shift from who misses out to who starts.
Nicolas Pepe has had a splendid season in France with Lille, and has Europe’s top clubs paying court, while Wilfried Zaha is once again being talked up for a higher level. Beyond those two, there really is not much else to set the pulse aflutter; this is as functional an Ivorian team as has been to an Afcon since the millennium.
Which is precisely why it would be hasty to dismiss them from the conversation.
Since Zambia’s improbable triumph in 2012, the Africa Cup of Nations winners have tended to be, rather than an ensemble cast of stars, largely solid (some might consider this a euphemism) sides with one or two standout individuals, usually in attack.
Nigeria’s Super Eagles in 2013 may have only really showed they were the best team in South Africa in 2013 after the group stage, but their victory had a lot to do with the form and performances of Victor Moses right the way through.
His brace of penalties against Ethiopia, his dribbling and moments of sublime skill which eroded Ivory Coast’s morale, his assist for Elderson Echiejile’s stooped header against Mali: these moments elevated what was a largely workmanlike team.
In 2015, the Ivorians would finally get their hands on the title that had eluded them for 23 years.
Crucially, it came as the last vestiges of the ‘Golden Generation’ were disappearing; shorn of some of the more colourful stars of the previous decade, the Elephants focused on solidity and broke quickly, capitalizing on the finishing of Wilfried Bony to reward their economy of endeavour. It proved an effective strategy.
However, perhaps there is no better illustration for this phenomenon than 2017 champions Cameroon.
All through the tournament, Hugo Broos seemed to muddle through with the team, entirely unsure of his best side right up until the final. In all of that uncertainty, the Indomitable Lions leaned heavily on Benjamin Moukandjo’s set-pieces and the flair of Christian Bassogog.
The rest of the side was largely forgettable, and almost entirely fungible from one game to the next.
By recent precedent then, it might not be the worst thing in the world to have to rely on one or two attacking players carrying the can. Here, Ibrahim Kamara’s side can draw belief in the knowledge that, for all the paucity of quality in other areas, they can count on Zaha and Pepe.
The latter in particular has this past season displayed an ability to carry the bulk of his team’s attacking burden, scoring 22 and assisting 11 for Ligue 1 runners-up Lille. Combined, that makes out to 48 percent of all of Les Dogues' attacking output for the season.
Curiously though, there has always been a reluctance to commit to him as the attacking lynchpin for the national team, and only recently has he begun to enjoy trust. It is interesting to note that he was a part of the squad to the Afcon in 2017, and so is not an unknown quantity.
While there is often a reluctance to hand the reins over to a young player, precedent would seem to indicate this is a good idea, and especially so in the case of Pepe, who has shown he can handle it. The 24-year-old just seems to get better under increased scrutiny. His four international goals to date have, ominously, come in his last five internationals.
If the responsibility sits as comfortably on his shoulders as everything else seems to, Ivory Coast could well take the rest of Africa unawares.