Nairobi/Abidjan, Nov 30 (DPA) It is almost impossible to think of Ivory Coast without conjuring up an image of Didier Drogba prolific, powerful and petulant in equal measure � but the Elephants will need more than individual brilliance from the Chelsea forward to propel them to glory in South Africa.
The Ivorians cruised through their qualifying group – which posed thin opposition in Burkina Faso, Malawi and Guinea � and have finished second and fourth respectively in the last two Africa Cup of Nations tournaments.
However, the World Cup represents a major step up, as the West African nation discovered in Germany in 2006.
The Elephants, qualifying for the finals for the first time, found themselves plunged into the tournament’s group of death. They lost their first two games to Argentina and the Netherlands, both 2-1, and while a 3-2 victory over Serbia and Montenegro gave them a winning finish, a solitary victory was not enough to ensure qualification.
While commentators suggested the Elephants would have gone further had they not been handed such a brutal group – and they would be very unlucky to find themselves in a similar pickle next summer – they will still need their top players to bring all their European club experience to bear.
African teams have traditionally been criticized for defensive frailties, but in Manchester City’s Kolo Toure, 28, and Arsenal’s Emmanuel Eboue, 26, the Elephants have at least two defenders who can hold their own in what is currently considered the world’s best league, although Toure is still prone to lapses of concentration.
In midfield, Yaya Toure, 26, brother to Kolo, may be struggling to hold down a regular place at Barcelona but he is still likely to be the midfield anchor, potentially playing alongside Sevilla teammates Christian Koffi Ndri Romaric, 26, and Didier Zokora, 28, Ivory Coast’s most-capped player with 75 appearances.
Up front, Feyenoord’s Sekou Cisse, 24, or Chelsea’s Salomon Kalou, 24, could partner Drogba, 31 as the Elephants look to continue their free-scoring form � they banged five goals past Burkina Faso and Malawi in the qualifiers.
But while the Ivorians have plenty of star players to call on, there are those who doubt the ability of the coach Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic, 57 to craft a winning strategy for the team.
Jean-Marc Guillou, the Frenchman who co-founded top Ivorian club ASEC Mimosas’s youth academy � which produced the Toure brothers and Zokora believes Ivory Coast will never get past the first round with Halilhodzic at the helm.
“With Halilhodzic, the Ivory Coast no longer play as a team,” he told French daily Le Temps in October. Yes, they have again qualified for the World Cup, but that was essentially because of the individual brilliance of the players.”
Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic, 57, will be looking to erase his own World Cup heartache, caused when Yugoslavia crashed out of the first round of the 1982 tournament in Spain.
Following his career as a striker in Yugoslavia and France, Halilhodzic spent seven moderately successful years coaching Lille, Rennes and Paris Saint-German before stints in Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
He took over the Ivory Coast reins from Germany’s Uli Stielike in May 2008.
Prolific powerhouse Didier Drogba – Ivory Coast’s all-time leading goal scorer with 41 goals in 60 appearances � at 31 may see South Africa as his last World Cup appearance.
Drogba turned pro late, at 21, but after his goals helped Marseille reach the UEFA Cup final in 2004, Jose Mourinho lashed out 24 million pounds ($39.9 million) to bring him to Chelsea, where he has become a legend and the man opposition fans love to hate – both for his goals and his histrionics.
Nickname: Les Elephants (The Elephants)
FIFA affiliation: 1964
Highest FIFA ranking: 18 – August 2006 (first achieved)
Lowest FIFA ranking: 75 – March 2004
Previous World Cup appearances: 1 (2006)
Best World Cup performance: Group stage
Date qualified for finals: Oct 10, 2009