Can new coach Sven Goran Eriksson give the Ivorians the drive to succeed in South Africa?
The underlying reasons for the premature dismissal of Ivory Coast coach Vahid Halilhodzic – despite him losing only twice in 24 games – remain murky, but it would seem player power toppled him.
Having been beaten in a friendly by Japan and then 18 months later in the quarter-finals of the Nations Cup, after extra time to Algeria, there is little doubt Halilhodzic was harshly treated. His criticism of the players’ performances might have been the catalyst for his exit.
These machinations are common in west African football but do little to engender the continuity and serenity needed to properly approach a tournament of the size and importance of the World Cup.
The Ivorians have procured a hugely symbolic figure in Sven Goran Eriksson as
the replacement and the Swede has begun a difficult task with diligence, seeking out players across Europe to watch and engaging key squad members about the route forward.
Eriksson is a temporary solution and his impact will be closely watched. The Ivorians hope his star appeal will galvanise their side and, in particular, appeal to the similar star quality of talisman Didier Drogba. It is around the Chelsea striker that this team revolves and with his fluctuation in form so have the Elephants’ results ebbed and flowed.
The Ivorians looked world beaters at the Nations Cup finals in Ghana two years ago, but flopped in their semi-final on a bad day for Drogba. He did not look particularly sharp in Angola at the start of this year either, and what followed was another disappointing, premature exit. Egypt might have won three successive continental titles but on each occasion the Ivorians looked – only at times, admittedly – to be their superior.
At the last World Cup in Germany they were also lauded even though they were among the first teams to be knocked out, eliminated after losing their opening two matches against Argentina and Holland.
There is potential in the squad but too little comes through and now there are new concerns over Drogba’s injuries. Brazil and Portugal are tough prospects but the Ivorians’ expectations are that if they get it right on the night, they have the beating of most teams.
The view from the Ivory Coast
“I’ve said it several times before that the Ivorians have the necessary quality to embarrass European and South American teams. They have the individual players but they need the hunger if they are to win. There is also the mental strength and the concentration that it takes to have a good tournament.”
Abedi Pele, former African Footballer of the Year
“It is difficult to make a prognosis because we are not yet sure what the new coach will do about the power that Drogba wields. There are a lot of things going on behind the scenes with the team that will make it difficult. There has been
a coup d’etat with the coach and, on a sporting basis, it does not bode well for the Elephants at the World Cup.”
Jean-Marc Guillou, founder of the ASEC Abidjan academy