Group G: Ivory Coast
The Elephants were struggling even before Didier Drogba's injury...
Do golden generations ever win anything? By general consent this crop of Ivorian players Ã¢ÂÂ Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure, Kolo Toure, Salomon Kalou, Emmanuel Eboue, Didier Zokora Ã¢ÂÂ is the one of the greatest ever produced by any African country, and yet they have never won a Cup of Nations and their only victory at a World Cup was againstÃ¢ÂÂ¨ Serbia-Montenegro when both were already out.
Troublingly, there are signs that they are already past their peak: they lost in the final of the Cup of Nations in 2006, the semi-final in 2008 and the quarter-final in January.Ã¢ÂÂ¨
That latest defeat to Algeria, which came despite Kader Keita giving Ivory Coast an 89th-minute lead, prompted the dismissal of Vahid Halilhodzic as coach. He pointed out, with some justification, that he had been sacked after losing just one game in two years, and that a freakish one his side should have won. Then again, Ivory Coast had been sluggish in all their three games in the tournament (but after the Togo shootings, perhaps a slight lack of focus was understandable).Ã¢ÂÂ¨
The real problem was not so much sacking the Bosnian as doing so without having lined up a replacement. Guus Hiddink, Philippe Troussier, Mark Hughes and Bernd Schuster were all linked with the job before Sven-Goran Eriksson finally got in on the final weekend in March. That left him with an absurdly short period of time to work with his side and try to instil a fluency and cohesion.
This is a team that has grown up together, so perhaps that is not as big a factor as it may have been, but once again the slack administration of African football is hindering its development.Ã¢ÂÂ¨
Drogba, if he can return from a broken arm in time to play a part in the tournament, is a great leader of the line and, when his mind is right, a great captain. Yaya Toure is one of the best holding midfielders in the world, Emmanuel Eboue seems to be coming back into form and Salomon Kalou is a better, more skilful forward than he tends to show at Chelsea. The spine is there.Ã¢ÂÂ¨Ã¢ÂÂ¨
The goalkeeper, Boubacar Barry, is a liability, as is centre-back Sol Bamba. Kolo Toure is not what he was, making the team desperately vulnerable to crosses.
There is a general lack of imagination and creativity, so they are unlikely to trouble teams who can live with their strength.Ã¢ÂÂ¨Ã¢ÂÂ¨
Ã¢ÂÂ¨Ivory Coast won the Cup of Nations in 1992 without conceding a goal, something for which two local witch-doctors claimed credit. When they werenÃ¢ÂÂt paid, they cursed the team, who struggled until 2004 when the government paid them off with $2000 and a bottle of whisky. Ivory Ã¢ÂÂ¨Coast promptly qualified for their first World Cup.Ã¢ÂÂ¨Ã¢ÂÂ¨
The Coach: Sven-Goran Eriksson
A vacant job, oodles of cash, a golden generation going nowhere and no pressure to develop things long term: it had Sven written all over it. The former England managerÃ¢ÂÂs legendary sangfroid will be a major advantage in a country that feels success is long overdue, but lacks either the infrastructure or the spread of players over different positions to achieve it.Ã¢ÂÂ¨
Key Player: Didier DrogbaÃ¢ÂÂ¨
Drogba is as a patriotic as they come, and for all his success at club level, he would probably feel unfulfilled if he didnÃ¢ÂÂt make more of an impact with Ivory Coast.Ã¢ÂÂ¨Ã¢ÂÂ¨ The team is relying upon a speedy recovery.
Probable Team (4-3-3): Barry; Eboue, K Toure, Bamba, Tiene; Zokora, Y Toure, Tiote; Gervinho, Drogba, Kalou
Portugal, June 15, 3pm, Port Elizabeth
Brazil, June 20, 7.30pm, Johannesburg
North Korea, June 25, 3pm, Nelspruit
Qualified 1st in Africa Group E
Malawi (H) 5-0
Guinea (A) 2-1
Burkina Faso (A) 3-2
Burkina Faso (H) 5-0
Malawi (A) 1-1
Guinea (H) 3-0