MONCTON, New Brunswick -- On the heels of her team's elimination from the Women's World Cup, coach Clementine Toure made an impassioned plea for more resources to help her Ivory Coast squad develop and truly compete.
"The children played with great determination," Toure said of her team's participation in the tournament. "They played for their flag and they got better in every match."
Toure clarified that she used the word "children" as merely an affectionate term.
"I consider them like my children," she said. "Even though our training is rigorous and I am the first to criticize them and let them know how to improve, I am also there to support them."
Perhaps it was this close connection with the players that prompted her to speak up, almost in tears, about some of the obstacles the team had to face with very limited resources to prepare for the World Cup.
"We have worked so hard to try to present a good image of Ivory Coast," Toure said. "We wanted to do well in important matches like the one against Germany. We arrived 72 hours before the game, and were very tired from a long journey of 15 hours and with jet lag. Those are things that we would like to correct, to arrive earlier, and to play preparation games. We haven't been able to play friendly games, and this has hurt us."
The Ivory Coast was decimated 10-0 by Germany, yet competed well against Thailand, suffering a narrow 3-2 loss before falling 3-1 to Norway in the final group match on Monday. Ange Nguessan struck a stunner of a long-range shot for the Ivory Coast.
Norwegian coach Even Pellerud offered his congratulation to the Ivorians.
"I want to congratulate to our opposition today," Pellerud said. "They have improved game by game. They made life difficult for us today and also scored a beautiful goal."
Yet Toure had a message of her own on behalf of her whole squad.
"I want to make an appeal to not only our federation, but to all of Africa, that women's football has arrived," Toure said. "We believe in our women. We have a good team. Today the Ivory Coast showed it deserves a place in the World Cup. But we also deserved to be better prepared. We didn't deserve to be humiliated."
Toure didn't shy away from shouldering some of the blame on her squad's behalf.
"I accept my responsibility," she said. "I know also that the players have to learn how to lose matches, but not in this manner. We want things to change."
Pellerud observed that the Ivory Coast squad had done a lot to assist its own cause.
"For them to get to the World Cup finals and play these big teams that they have never played before must be a good help in itself. We really need to respect what they have accomplished as a team here. We see a great future for them."
It's no secret that women's soccer has grown exponentially in the countries that make the effort to develop programs to help their female players. Norway has had a strong program for many years based on this kind of investment.
Yet the fact that Norway has seven women's youth national teams and that the Toppserien, the top league for professional women's football in the country, has existed since 1984, only goes to show the differences between the haves and have-nots on the women's level. Not all federations are as generous as Norway's.
"Their federation will have to respect and observe what [the Ivory Coast players] are doing on the field these days and make sure that they are better prepared next time," Pellerud said. "The talent is there. For a country to bring young girls forward to be leaders and role models in the community is certainly something that their federation should praise and encourage."
That's some of what Toure was hoping would take place.
"At this point I want to say that we want to see a higher investment, so that we can prepare with friendly matches," Toure said. "That's what we need to take on the great teams. If we could get half the resources men do, that's what we could do."
For friendly matches, the team hosting another country for an exhibition is often required to pay expensive appearances fees to its opponents. That's out of reach for many countries that wish to improve.
"That's the message I want the world to know, to consider female players who choose to play football, that we value them as athletes," Toure said. "We need any countries to help the Ivory Coast by playing us. We want to be an example for Africa."