If an African team is to make a major impact on the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ finals in South Africa, Côte d'Ivoire are seen by many as the most likely candidates. And with world class talent throughout the starting 11, it's no wonder. Les Elephants also a point to prove after being eliminated in the first round at Germany 2006, albeit in an extremely difficult group, where they lost 2-1 to giants Argentina and the Netherlands before coming from two goals down to beat Serbia and Montenegro 3-2.
With more experience, and a little more luck in the draw, Didier Drogba and Co are certain to be a handful in attack as they look to cement their emerging pedigree on the international level at South Africa 2010.
The road to South Africa
Befitting their status as one of the continent's powerhouses, Côte d'Ivoire strode through qualifying without losing a match, running away with their final qualifying group ahead of Burkina Faso, Malawi and Guinea. There only moment of genuine uncertainty came when they were on the brink of qualifying, although - as usual - Didier Drogba responded when his team needed him. The Chelsea man's decisive 70th-minute goal at Burkina Faso gave the side just enough insurance to hold off the Stallions 3-2 in Ouagadougou, and fittingly, it was his dramatic equaliser after coming off the bench against Malawi that gave the West Africans a 1-1 draw and the point they needed to reach South Africa. All told, the Chelsea man was top scorer for Les Elephants, with six goals in five matches.
The star players
Les Elephants feature top-drawer talent throughout their side, with the Chelsea pair of Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou a formidable duo up front. Sevilla's Didier Zokora and Barcelona's Yaya Toure provide bite in midfield alongside Marseille's diminutive Bakary Kone, while the England-based pair of Emmanuel Eboue and Kolo Toure combine with Stuttgart's Arthur Boka to form one of the best defences in Africa.
Vahid Halilhodzic took the reins of his first national side when he assumed control of Côte d'Ivoire after the 2008 CAF African Cup of Nations. However, the Bosnian only made it through the next edition of the continental contest when he was sacked after a disappointing quarter-final finish at Angola 2010. After Guus Hiddink and Bernd Schuster were both linked with the job, Sven-Goran Eriksson was given the helm just months before the start of the finals.
South Africa 2010 will be Eriksson's third FIFA World Cup after leading England to the quarter-finals at both the 2002 and 2006 finals. He had an unsuccessful stint with Mexico in the first half of qualifying for 2010, but he was sacked after less than a year. He is a vastly experienced club coach, having led Gothenburg to the UEFA Cup in 1982, and leading teams in Portugal, England and Italy.
• Côte d'Ivoire were the only nation at Germany 2006 whose squad was made up of players entirely based at clubs outside their home country.
• They are the only team to never failed to score in a FIFA World Cup match.
• Côte d'Ivoire conceded early goals in all three of their 2006 matches, with all six of their goals against coming before the 40th minute.
What they said
"At the last World Cup we played really well, but we were unlucky because we were in a very tough group with Argentina and Holland and went out in the first round. But I think with this kind of experience, it will be possible at South Africa 2010 to do much better. Perhaps we can make the quarter-finals and then semi-finals; this is something we can achieve," Côte d'Ivoire striker Didier Drogba.
|12||Jean Jacques GOSSO|
|ERIKSSON Sven Goran|