Ivory Coast Camp Focus – Eriksson back in the limelight

Sven-Goran Eriksson has enjoyed a wealth of success and experience after 33 years of various managing positions in world football. On his curriculum vitae appear a number of impressive feats. He won the UEFA Cup in 1982 with Swedish side IFK Goteborg as part of a treble-winning season. Following that, he lifted the Portuguese Championship three times with Benfica over two stints as boss as well as being beaten in the 1990 European Cup final by AC Milan.

Most notably, his four years (1997-2001) in Italy with Lazio saw him lead the Rome club to the Serie A title in 2000 after winning the Italian Cup at the end of his first season in charge and the 1999 UEFA Cup Winners Cup. Of course, he then became the first foreign boss of the English national side in 2001 after Kevin Keegan’s resignation. He enjoyed varied success with the so-called ‘Golden Generation’ of talent, only to fall short in the quarter-finals of three consecutive major tournaments – World Cups 2002 and 2006, and European Championships 2004. But one of the hardest tasks he will have faced in his career comes in the form of his current position as Head Coach of Ivory Coast. Eriksson leads the west Africans into the World Cup with just two friendly matches in the build-up to the tournament – Sunday’s friendly against Paraguay his only chance to watch his side in competitive action before announcing his 23-man squad next Tuesday.

After working with just 13 players at their training camp in Montreux, Switzerland last week, the Swede welcomed the remaining 17 of his 30-man provisional squad on Monday, meeting many players for the first time. He took the post of Ivory Coast Head Coach just a few months ago after former boss Vahid Halilhodzic’s exit in March. Eriksson, 62, caused a stir last July when he joined League Two’s Notts County as director of football, a position he held for just seven months before leaving the post in February. He was quckly back in the bull-pit of international management after recent spells with England and Mexico.

Meanwhile, Hibernian central defender Souleymane Bamba has suggested the side’s chances of victory in South Africa are as good as any nations, as the Elephants prepare for their second consecutive finals. Despite a poor showing at the Africa Cup of Nations at the beginning of the year, Bamba remains convinced that the Elephants can shock the world and become the first African nation to lift the famous trophy on July 11: “We have a chance of winning the World Cup. We have world-class players playing for the best teams in Europe, we have experience, we have ability, so why not?” The Easter Road favourite backed up new Head Coach Eriksson’s call for unity in the squad and said that this time the side can live up to the high expectations placed on the nation. “Individually, we have so much talent and, if we have had a fault, it’s that we expect too much from individuals. We can’t afford to think ‘We have Drogba, Dindane, Kalou – they’ll make things happen.” he said.

With their opening Group G match against Portugal on June 15, he identified that clash as the key to progression to the knock-out stage: “The first game will be vital, of course. If we do well in that one, I think we have a great chance of going through. There’s no doubt it was a tough draw for us but it’s also very, very exciting. These are the kind of games that any player wants to be involved in and, if we can get through, I think everyone will sit up and take notice.”Bamba was part of Ivory Coast’s squad in Germany 2006 but failed to make an appearance as the Elephants fell short in the group stage, missing out after defeats to the Netherlands and Argentina before beating Serbia and Montengro. This time a likely starter, Bamba and his defensive partner Kolo Toure impressed for the west Africans in qualifying, conceding just six goals in 12 games. A solidarity they will need to attain when facing the likes of Portugal and Brazil this summer.

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