Ivorians, Italians, rely on new men
© AFP

Former Marseille coach Gerard Gili has emerged as the front-runner for the vacant post of Côte d'Ivoire coach ahead of tomorrow's friendly with Italy in London.

The Africans are looking for a new man after Sven-Goran Eriksson, the ex-England manager, left after the 2010 FIFA World Cup™. Both nations were disappointing in South Africa, with neither managing to negotiate their way through the group stage.

Côte d'Ivoire Football Federation president Jacques Anouma has told Frenchman Gili, 57, he is in pole position to succeed Eriksson as he has been involved with both the Ivorian senior and youth teams for the past five years.  "Since he knows the place and the players, I have asked him to come," Anouma said. "I've told him he has an advantage compared to others in that he already knows the lay of the land."

Côte d'Ivoire' most well-known player, Didier Drogba, was not named in a 26-man squad for the Italy game as the Chelsea forward is not yet fully fit following a hernia operation, which reduced him to a half-hour substitute's role in his club's 3-1 defeat to Manchester United in the Community Shield season-opener on Sunday.

Only three other members of the FIFA World Cup squad will be missing however, with Galatasaray midfielder Kader Keita, Monaco's Jean-Jacques Gosso and Maccabi Netanya goalkeeper Aristide Zogbo absent. New Manchester City signing Yaya Toure and his club-mate and older brother Kolo are scheduled to feature, as is Chelsea forward Salomon Kalou and Arsenal defender Emmanuel Eboue.

Prandelli debut
Italy's failure to reach the knock-out phase in South Africa was a surprise as they began the tournament as the holders, having beaten France in the final in 2006.  A 3-2 defeat to unfancied Slovakia brought coach Marcello Lippi's reign to an abrupt end and the Côte d'Ivoire clash will be successor Cesare Prandelli's first chance to pick the national team.

Prandelli has brought in a host of new faces and recalled Sampdoria's Antonio Cassano, who had been out of favour under Lippi. Inter Milan striker Mario Balotelli, who has yet to make his senior debut, will be under intense scrutiny as Manchester City are keen to bring him to the English Premier League.

Other new faces in the squad are Bologna goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano, Milan's Luca Antonini, Cagliari's Davide Astori and Andrea Lazzari, Sampdoria's Stefano Lucchini, Stuttgart's Cristian Molinaro and Juventus striker Amauri.

Amauri is a particularly interesting pick as he is a 30-year-old Brazilian who only obtained Italian citizenship in March, having played only lower league football in his homeland before moving to Europe to join Swiss side Bellinzona ten years ago. He arrived at Juventus via Parma and insists he deserves a place on the world stage.

"I chose the Italian team two years ago because effectively my career as a footballer has been in this country," he said. "When I first arrived I was a complete unknown, so to wear the Azzurri jersey now is a personal victory and a dream come true.

"I came here with my heart. I was not given a leg up by anyone and have nothing to be ashamed of. It's up to me to change the opinion that some people have. My objective is to represent the Azzurri for as long as possible, hopefully until the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. If I were to score against Brazil then I'd have absolutely no problem in celebrating, just as I hope to celebrate on Tuesday night against Côte d'Ivoire."