Ivory Coast Camp Focus – Sven’s Ivorians cling on to hope of Drogba return

Ivory Coast captain Didier Drogba remains Sven-Goran Eriksson’s primary injury concern ahead of Tuesday’s opening World Cup Group G clash with Portugal in Port Elizabeth. The influential striker missed the squad’s Friday practice session at their Johannesburg training camp to rest his broken arm. However his recovery is improving every day and the Swedish Head Coach is hopeful that his star man will make the field in the Elephants crucial opening match.

Speaking on Thursday, Eriksson said: “If it had been today or tomorrow, he wouldn’t play,” ahead of the 15 June clash against Carlos Queiroz’ Portugal side. “But there are still some days – he might play against them.”

Eriksson refused to state outright whether his key man would be available to him and suggested he would leave it for the player to decide ultimately on his own fitness and ability to participate in the opening match of Group G: “I can’t confirm that he (Drogba) will face Portugal, even though the recovery is going well. And I have certainly thought about putting in place a plan B. But the decision to play will depend on Didier himself and the specialists that are following him.” Eriksson is likely to leave his decision on whether or not to start Drogba until the last possible moment in order to give the 32-year-old every chance of playing in the game.

Drogba had scored in both of Ivory Coast’s warm-up matches against Paraguay and Japan, before suffering the injury to his arm against the Samurai Blue on June 4. He underwent surgery in Berne, Switzerland after breaking his arm in a collision with Japanese defender Marcus Tulio. Initial fears that Drogba would be forced to withdraw from the national squad appear to have eased, yet should the striker encounter further problems from the injury and feel the need to pull out Eriksson has until Monday to notify FIFA of a replacement player to call up.

Drogba heaped praise on his new boss in the build-up to the Elephants launching their World Cup campaign as they seek to reach the knockout stages for the first time. The Ivorian centre forward told the BBC World Service that Eriksson had given him and his teammates confidence ahead of the tournament’s opening.

“Eriksson is one of the best managers on the market and has done a lot of good things with the England national team. He is a very good professional and with his experience I hope we can beat one or two big teams at the World Cup. He knows there is a lot of work to do that’s why he started very quickly when he got the job.”

He also spoke of the pressures facing him and his colleagues as the eyes of an expectant nation and indeed the continent of Africa look for the Elephants to perform in South Africa: “The expectation back home is so high, higher than England. Most of our players play for big teams and have won things with big teams. But for the country we have won nothing. People speak about this generation being the best in Ivory Coast for years and that is why the expectation is higher than in France or England.”

Eriksson, meanwhile, looked ahead to facing Portugal, as well as five-time winners Brazil and mysterious underdogs North Korea in what has been billed as the ‘Group of Death’: “It is a difficult group, but we will be well prepared and we will do everything to play well against the other teams.” The former Mexico Coach was sacked from the post in April 2009 after just 10 months at the helm before taking charge of Ivory Coast in March this year and now leads them for only the third game, following Vahid Halilhodzic’s dismissal after a disastrous early exit to the African Cup of Nations.

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