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Time for new herd of Elephants?

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Piers Edwards | 09:17 UK time, Saturday, 26 June 2010

Perhaps it was predictable that Ivory Coast's Elephants should do their best rampaging just 30 miles from the Kruger National Park but the question now is whether this 'golden generation' will be put out to grass.

Following their early exit, Didier Drogba was immediately asked whether he'd be back for Brazil 2014.

"That's a good question but I don't know what the future will hold," the Ivorian captain replied. "All I know is that I'm proud to be part of this team."

Ivory Coast's all-time top scorer will be 36 by the next World Cup, while all the rest of the starting line-up in Nelspruit - bar Gervinho, just 23, and Cheik Ismael Tiote - will also be in their 30s.

So the first decision for whoever replaces Sven-Goran Eriksson is whether to retain the Toure brothers, Didier Zokora, Emmanuel Eboue or to focus on the youth instead.

kolo.jpgDidier Zakora's centre back partnership with Kolo Toure has been a revelation

Unsurprisingly, veteran Zokora, who's won 88 caps since his debut in 2000, believes his generation deserves one final chance.

"We now have great confidence for the next African Cup of Nations - because we want to win things and have big players in Europe," says the Sevilla man.

When put to him that the Ivorian camp has been saying this for the last four years, Zokora's riposte did at least contain some fresh material.

"I'm really confident because Eriksson changed a lot in the team. The key change is that we're now playing together as a team whereas there was lots of individuality beforehand.

"In the past, we'd give the ball to a Gervinho or Salomon Kalou who would dribble and lose possession but now when we lose the ball, we close down space as we've become very disciplined."

No-one would argue with that as the Swede has overseen an impressive turnaround in the Elephants' organisation - starting by pairing Zokora with Toure to tighten the defence.

Friends since childhood, the duo have so enjoyed playing together at the back, just as they used to before embarking on their European careers, that they've taken to calling each other 'Cannavaro' (Kolo) and 'Nesta' (Zokora).

But the problem for Zokora's dreams is that Eriksson, surely the highest-calibre coach the West African nation has ever had, will be leaving the job despite his impressive showing after just one month with the players.

"It's a pity we're leaving South Africa as the team is getting better and better in every game and training session," ventured Eriksson, who - with the benefit of hindsight - now regrets not going all out for victory against Portugal.

sven.jpgSven-Goran Eriksson's success has a big task awaiting

"I wish we had been in a different group."

It's a sentiment his opposite number, Kim Jong-Hun, shared.

Rather bizarrely, the men who locked horns at the colourful Mbombela Stadium first met in Pyongyang last year as Eriksson travelled to North Korea to discuss football projects with the then 'owners' of Notts County.

It's hard to imagine the conversation was too inspiring as the North Korea coach gives little away, his seemingly-lengthy answers in press conferences actually revealing next-to-nothing.

"We might go for the attack, we might go for the defence but it will depend on the situation and how the game flows," he announced on Thursday.

"If needed, we will be more aggressive and if we need to be more defensive, we will focus on that."

Indeed. Such monochrome chat is in stark contrast to the wonderful colour emanating from Diego Maradona's press conferences, but then just getting close to a North Korean player has proved too much of a challenge for many of the world's media in South Africa.

Even those conducting interviews on behalf of tournament organisers were required to send in their intended questions 48 hours beforehand so that they could be vetted.

But Jong Tae-Se, perhaps risking the wrath of his homeland, has dared to suggest that such reclusive behaviour from those representing the 'hermit state' should be abandoned.

"Everybody thinks our country is very closed and mysterious, and we have to change that," says the 'People's Rooney', who was overcome with emotion before the match against Brazil.

"We can change for the better if we review this closed style and refusal to honour interviews."

It's something others squad members may wish for as little seems to have changed since the Koreans' 1966 World Cup debut when the players were, according to World Soccer magazine, forbidden 'wine, women and song' for months before the finals.

This time, they rarely ventured outside of their hotel rooms save to eat or train so one wonders how they will reflect on their World Cup adventure in the years to come.

That said, one of the squad has an eternal memento after swapping shirts with a Premier League star.

Having waited sheepishly outside the Elephants' dressing room, the North Korean received his shirt with great excitement until he saw the name on the back - 'Eboue' - whereupon he shook his head as if to explain there'd been some terrible mistake!

But just like the draw that paired these two teams with Brazil and Portugal, he had to accept what he'd been given.

"You can't be too disappointed when exiting a group like this," Drogba, whose shirt the Korean had been hoping for, said simply.

"We have a good team and good players but Brazil and Portugal are better than us. In an easier group, perhaps we'd have gone through."


  • Comment number 1.

    Its quite painful that one of African's best team is leaving.But kudos to the ivorian national team.You could feel the hunger and desire in them.Other than ivory coast and ghana and perhaps the host south africa, i expected the others to be eliminated.Up chelsea

  • Comment number 2.

    Ivory Coast is the lone team I feel sorry for being knocked out here. Just too bad they drew the group of death; they could have topped at least 2 other groups.

  • Comment number 3.

    Ivory Caost is probably the only African country I wished to discontinue. The western medai and especially the french have always made us believe it isthe best and the only competent in Africa, and yet year in year out they get nothing and will not even have a third place in CAN. It is one thing to get huge contracts in huge clubs wth the help of the media, it is another thing to win trophies as does Egypt. So is Ivory Coast Africa's best side, the for me is NO.

  • Comment number 4.

    Chindi. I agree with you that Egypt is Africa's best side and has been for the last 6 or so years. However, the Ivory Coast has great players, both on and off the field. You can not help liking the Toure brothers when you see their humility and how grounded they are. Drogba is a real ambassader for his country and Africa as a whole. His humaniterian work deserves all credit, although he does it in the quiet..
    I am sorry that Ivory Coast has been knocked out. This team has the most talented individual players that any African Team has had.

  • Comment number 5.

    Nice Blog, Piers!

    It will take sometime to rebuild another strong playing unit as this one.
    A pity really that they haven't lived up to their very high billing in spite of the quality they have at their disposal. Their best perfomance together was at the Nation's Cup in Egypt 2006, tournament they should have clinched were it not for some wasteful showing.

    They seem to have matured for SA 2010 although they could have put on an even better shift. Really unlucky for them to be pooled against opposition of such quality as Brazil and Portugal; as it happened in Germany 2006. Hopefully a new team, supposing one will be assembled in a few years will learn from their mistakes and give even better exploits in future tournaments.

  • Comment number 6.

    Zokora says Erickson has improved the Ivory Coast in terms of getting them to play together as a team "whereas there was lots of individuality beforehand". And he says: " when we lose the ball, we close down space as we've become very disciplined."

    Is it not strange that a mature professional footballer would really need to be told these things?? He's only showing how naive and un-organised the Ivory Coast football team is. Like school boys taking pot shots at goal from long range not even thinking to pass the ball to a team-mate with a better goal scoaring chance. Plenty of the other African Nations in this World Cup were the very same.

  • Comment number 7.

    I also agree that Egypt is the best team in Africa, well organized and play very lethal attacking football. However, man-for-man, Ivory Coast have the better players. Problem was getting them to play as a unit.

    No disgrace in losing to Brazil and drawing with Portugal...It was just a very tough group, just like in Germany. Surely if they had Cameroon, or Nigeria's group, they could've done way much better.

    It's quite unlikely this generation will all be there for Brazil 2014 if they get there...but I don't know who they have in the youth ranks. They have a giant striker at CFR Cluj, hopefully he shines in the future.

    Ivory Coast came here in Tanzania earlier this year, they were superb players as well as people and the locals really endeared to them. Long may it continue, and I hope they come again!

  • Comment number 8.

    I wish Ivory Coast could have gone through to the next round, they were by far the best and most interesting African team at this tournament. But there was no luck for them this year. At least half of the teams advancing to the Round of 16 would not have finished out of Group G, especially after North Korea had that 7-0 total collapse against Portugal.

  • Comment number 9.

    Great piece Piers,

    Ha.I loved the part where an Eboue jersey was returned to the North Korean rather than that of the mercurial Didier Drogba.

    Ivory Coast despite losing out to Brazil and Portugal did a better job than any other African team in this world cup. It's a shame they were tied up in a tough group and lost out. I rooted for the Ivoriens more than my home country Nigeria.

    Cameroon and Nigeria have a lot of work to do! They played poor and lacked any motivation to be in this tournament. They came unprepared and their respective football administrative houses are grossly incompetent. The drumbeats for change have never louder!

    Okocha for Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) President.

  • Comment number 10.

    it couls have been very different. 2006 they get Argentina and Holland, this time Brazil and Portugal. About as harsh as it gets.

  • Comment number 11.

    I just hope that the North Korean team doesn't end up in labour camps like all but one (Pak Do Ik, the scorer against Italy) member of the 1966 squad did.

  • Comment number 12.

    ach nuet, whos kidding who here...if egypt is the "best african side", then why are they not in the world cup? if they are suposedly better than algeria, then why are they not in the world cup? algeria defeated egypt to advance and ended up LAST in their group!, losing to the yanks no less! so enough with egypt as the "best african side" thank you very much..yeas, shame that da sweed is leaving so soon, but ivory coast hopefully shall retain what he has offered them instructionally. ghana got lucky with a victory over the yanks. they showed nothing special. the most fluid african side, despite not advancing has been south africa. yeas, finishing hurt them, but they are astute pupils, for you could tell their latest coach was from brazil by the way they passed the ball around. they will be the new african contenders by the time the cup makes it to brazil. here here..

  • Comment number 13.

    #12 is somewhat right, if Egypt is the best african team, then they should have been at the world. There's a difference between palying beautiful football and playing for a win. Good teams play beautiful football as is the situation with Egypt while Great teams play for a win at all cost. As a fan, I'd rather take a dirty win over and impressive loss. The happiest fans are those whose teams win. Which is the point of the game.
    The criteria for african teams to quality for the world was not base on a single game. So Egypt had more than enough chances to qualify but did not. If they couldnt beat Algeria who had a horrible world cup campain, then i beleive they could have done worst. Egypt also has a history of not doing well agaisnt non african teams.

  • Comment number 14.

    Didier Drogba and the Elephants look good to have a fresh go at the next mega event. The hard tested African footballers have a longer playing life span then their counterparts from other continents. As a team they are yet to reach their peak and the next world cup would be an ideal platform for the Elephants to take the rest for a jolly ride. Best wishes.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 15.

    I feel that this Ivory Coast team should have done much better if they had gone for a win against Portugal and closed down the Brazilians more effectively. They could have beaten any team yet they appear to lack self belief. They should have taken a cue from Ghana who at the 1/16th stage in the 2006 world cup outplayed Brazil though they lost by 3-0, including a dodgy offside goal. Simply put Ivory Coast lost qualification in their minds by not looking at the challenges (countries) individually but by seeing a 'huge' monster group of death. The teams that dumped England, Italy and France out of the world cup at the group stages are not that superior to Ivory Coast. Perhaps if they hadn't changed their coach too they could have done better. Better luck next time.

  • Comment number 16.

    Personally with the exceptiopn of Ghana for "consistency" reasons need to dispense with their overrated and money mercenary European coaches. Indigenous coaches need to be given a chance and many in Nigeria's case have prove themselves like Keshi,SiaSia etc. So I was very happy when Nigeria was humiliated after the disgraceful treatment of a Nigerian coach Shaibu Amodu by the Nigeria Football Association. 2 worldcup qualifications 2002 and 2010 and he got sacked 4-5 montsh before the tournament. How stupid is that? What is even more comical ios that they got Swedish man fondly called Lagerbeer by Nigerian fans who failed to qualify Sweden as their coach. He must be laughing now in Sweden counting his $1.5m for only 4 months work. Smart European, dumb Nigerians.

    Ivory Coast have agood players but like Spain showed goodd players should have the ability to combinme their talents and play as a team. I like the look of Gervinho he looks one for the future very direct in his play.

    Eriksson madea bad mistake not going for the win against Portugal. I often wone why players don't go agints their coaches are go with their natural instinct to win matches.


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