Older and wiser from the last World Cup, Ivory Coast could be the first African team to truly threaten the old guard of international football.
Discipline may have let them down in 2006, but, with a new manager at the helm and several key players currently in a rich vein of form, the smart money is on them to at least feature in the knock out stages in South Africa next month.
Sven Goren Erikson swapped Notts County for the lure of having another stab at international football and took over from Vahid Halilhodzic in March after the Bosnian was sacked following his side’s early elimination from the African Cup of Nations. Halilhodzic fell victim to the growing expectation that this group of players are destined to achieve great things.
This flies in the face of Ivory Coast being placed in arguably the hardest group (G) and they will have to face five times winners Brazil, Portugal and the unknown quantity of North Korea before tackling the later stages.
What’s all the hype over? Well let’s take a look at some of these talented individuals – several of whom are household names in the Premiership.
Much of their hope will rest upon the shoulders of one man – Didier Drogba. The Chelsea forward has proven himself as one of the World’s best strikers since his arrival in England and with him in the side, the West Africans will always pose a potent attacking threat. Drogba finished this season’s leading scorer in the Premiership (29) propelling Chelsea to their first ever double and will be almost certain to a bag a few more in the tournament. He has found the net 41 times in 61 appearances for his country.
Drogba could be lining up alongside his Chelsea teammate Salomon Kalou who can play as a forward or on the wing. He did not feature in the 2006 World Cup having not made his international debut until the following year and has netted 12 goals in all competitions for the Blues this season.
Expect to see forward Aruna Dindane in South Africa too. The 29-year-old has been one of the few shining lights at Fratton Park this season and has scored 10 goals for Pompey. Lens are set to end his loan spell at the South Coast club and are thought to be entertaining offers from Wolves and Blackburn.
Ivory Coast’s progression through the qualifying stages was almost flawless with five wins and one draw. They conceded just six goals largely due to Kolo Touré and Guy Demel’s astute defending. Toure is of course currently plying his trade at Eastlands after seven years spent as an integral part of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal squad and has recently been linked with a move to Barcelona. 28-year-old Demel started his career in France and now plays for Hamburg.
Arsenal’s Emmanuel Eboué is also set to line up in Erikson’s back four and has over 50 caps to his name. The 27-year-old has made almost 200 appearances in the Premiership and was a Champions League Finalist with Arsenal four years ago.