Ivory Coast Coach Sven-Goran Eriksson called for unity amongst his players after naming his provisional selection of 29 players for this summer’s
However, the Swede recognises that despite an array of individual talent, it means nothing without harmony in the Ivorian camp on the back of criticism by former head Vahid Halilhodzic. Eriksson took the helm in March after the Bosnian was sacked following Ivory Coast’s elimination from the Africa Cup of Nations in January at the quarter-final stage and he departed the post casting doubt over the players’ ability to play as a team. “I would say that the team has great players, but it is not a great team. Some of the players do not want to play together,” the former Paris St Germain Coach said. Halilhodzic also put the boot into his successor’s ability to turn around any divisions in such a short time before the tournament kicks off on June 11: “I had three or four months to heal the rift among the players and that was possible. A new coach can’t do that, because he will have only 20 days to prepare for the World Cup.”
Nonetheless, Eriksson insists he can create a strong side, both physically and mentally and can progress to the knockout stages if they are able to pull together. “There are a lot of good football players in this country, a lot are top class in the world. From Monday, it’s up to my players to try to make a team of it. The quality’s there but quality’s not enough,” the former England Head Coach said. Top of Eriksson’s team-sheet is sure to be Premier League Golden Boot winner Didier Drogba. After his 37-goal Double-winning season with Chelsea, the 31-year-old could be one of the stars of the tournament and will look to carry his club form into South Africa. Alongside Drogba, who has an astonishing 33 goals in 48 games for his country, the new Coach will have a difficult choice as to who partners the talismanic front-man. Formerly, under Halilhodzic, a mixture of starters have included talented Lille striker Gervinho, who at 22 and on the world stage could attract the attentions of top European scouts if he adds to the 13 goals he scored in Ligue 1 last season. Also vying for the spot will be Aruna Dindane, popular with doomed Portsmouth fans after his loan spell at Fratton Park from French side Lens. His eight goals in 22 games gave Pompey fans rare moments to smile about in a dismal season.
Drogba’s Chelsea teammate Salomon Kalou ended the season in good form, despite a horrendous miss in Saturday’s FA Cup final. His hat-trick against Stoke, as well as his general improvement in play suggests he can find the net for Ivory Coast as Eriksson recognises his side cannot afford to rely on Drogba finding the net in South Africa. “It’s not enough to hope Drogba will go out and score some goals,” Eriksson told reporters. “If we don’t play as a team, we cannot be impressive. Quality isn’t enough in football, you need to work together.”
Former Tottenham midfield general Didier Zokora should add to his current 80 caps for Ivory Coast alongside Barcelona’s Yaya Toure – making up as destructive a midfield you are likely to find in South Africa this summer. At the back, although he has been the No.1 for the last three years, Boubacar Barry may prove a headache for Eriksson, as the Lokeren stopper is prone to errors at key moments and could be regarded a weakness in an otherwise strong unit. In front of him Manchester City’s Kolo Toure and former Arsenal teammate Emmanuel Eboue will hope to protect their goalkeeper as best they can.
The squad will train together for the first time under the Swede on Monday in Switzerland (minus FA Cup finalists Drogba, Kalou and Dindane). Without having taken charge of Ivory Coast in a competitive match, Eriksson will need to use the upcoming friendlies against Paraguay and Japan to determine his final 23 and probable starting line-up in South Africa. With experience of guiding England to two World Cup quarter-finals in 2002 and 2006, his task to repeat the trick with Ivory Coast couldn’t be harder, facing Brazil, Portugal and North Korea in what many consider the ‘Group of Death’ – with European champions and tournament favourites Spain likely opponents in the last 16.
Provisional 29-man Ivory Coast squad:
Boubacar Barry (Lokeren)
Vincent Angban (ASEC Mimosas)
Daniel Yeboah (ASEC Mimosas)
Aristide Zogbo (Maccabi Netanya)
Souleman Bamba (Hibernian)
Arthur Boka (Stuttgart)