Demel: We're now the underdogs
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"Guuuuyyy!" The familiar chant of tens of thousands of Hamburg supporters as Guy Demel charges forward from the back in his inimitably powerful fashion. The Ivorian defender has become the darling of the fans in the northern Germany city and, thanks in part to his muscular 6'2" frame, he commands the full respect of the opposition too.

The athletic right-back is currently preparing for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™: his first trip to the elite finals. "Of course it's great. When you watch football as a kid, you dream of the World Cup and now I have the opportunity to realise that dream. It's unbelievable," said the 28 year old in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.

"It's an honour to play for Côte d'Ivoire. We're respected the world over, we have some great players and I'm just proud to be a part of it. When you wear your national team's kit it's completely different to playing at club level. It's another level and another kind of motivation."

Recent history has shown that the aforementioned motivation has not always been as prevalent as it could be among the Ivorian squad. At the 2010 CAF African Cup of Nations in Angola, the Elephants began the tournament as favourites but crashed out 3-2 after extra time against Algeria at the quarter-final stage. "Perhaps we were a bit too arrogant and over-confident," admitted Demel.

"We underestimated a few teams too, but it happens. Now we have another chance to prove ourselves and we want to make the most of it. It's a lot easier for us to go into games as underdogs. Everyone gives their all against teams like Germany and Italy so we normally do well."

Brazil and Portugal won't like playing against us as we have nothing to lose.
Guy Demel, Côte d'Ivoire defender.

So, perhaps a fearsome-looking Group G also consisting of Brazil, Portugal and Korea DPR will come as a blessing in disguise for Côte d'Ivoire? "We've got a difficult group, no question, but what can be better than pitting yourself against the best teams?"

"We're sportsmen and every sportsman wants to win, no matter who the opposition is. You want to win every game. It's certainly not going to be easy, but the pressure isn't on us. Brazil and Portugal won't like playing against us as we have nothing to lose. If we can survive the group stage it will give us confidence and then anything is possible. The first game will be decisive, but the team is hungry and highly motivated."

The Elephants' squad, packed with world stars such as Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou and Yaya Toure, has every right to look forward to a positive showing in the Rainbow Nation. However, their performance will depend heavily on whether new coach Sven-Goran Eriksson can bring cohesion to a multitude of individual talents.

"He's a coach with plenty of confidence," was Demel's verdict. "You can sense his experience. He's calm, which I think is a very positive thing. He knows what he's doing and what the team's strengths are. He's one of the best coaches in the world, I'm pretty certain of that."

On paper, the Ivorians are undoubtedly one of the strongest African teams, although Demel played down their reputation as the continent's best. "No, the best African team is Egypt. They've won the African Cup of Nations three times in a row. They're the most successful team historically, so they're the best. We're certainly one of the top teams in Africa, but not the best."

"In poor countries, football is the only thing some people have," said Demel as the interview drew to a close, when quizzed on what the first FIFA World Cup to be held on African soil means to the people of Côte d'Ivoire. "The support is massive. We've had a few difficult years and football has helped us a lot. For us, football is more than just a game."

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