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Ivory Coast's World Cup hopes

Andrew Harding | 16:35 UK time, Thursday, 13 May 2010

I've just emerged, hot, dusty, and not exactly covered in glory, from a game of street football here in Abidjan. We were in what's become known as Drogba village, a crowded neighbourhood where pictures of Ivory Coast's most famous sporting son are on almost every wall. The local team, Drogbakro, generously let me and my cameraman Chris Parkinson, join them and embarrass ourselves on their tiny, makeshift, five-a-side pitch, surrounded by wooden shacks, motorbikes, and what seemed like a thousand cheering kids.
I'm in Ivory Coast to look at the region's phenomenal football industry ahead of the World Cup. I'll have more on that in the coming days, but earlier I ran into Sven-Goran Eriksson, and thought I'd let you know what he's up to here.

The former England manager was looking a little overwhelmed - by the heat, the humidity and the language. He's on his first visit to this Francophone country - and indeed to West Africa - as he prepares to lead the Ivory Coast's star-studded national team to the World Cup.

"The weather is different here," he said, with typical understatement, before removing his jacket. "I started learning French," he told me, "but you know what it's like, it's just hard to find the time."

Mr Eriksson has come on a flying visit to announce his initial 30-man squad, which he'll take to Switzerland for training. "For the altitude and the weather," he explained.

"I come from the outside, so I don't have any favourites," he told a big crowd of local journalists squeezed into a boardroom at the Ivorian Football Federation. Asked about his three-month contract and salary, he merely observed that he wished "some of the figures reported were true."

Didier Drogba was, of course, on the manager's list.

"He must be extremely popular here - close to a god," said Mr Eriksson. "I would be mad not to include him," he said.

"But it's not enough to say that Drogba is talented. If we don't play as a team we cannot win."

Ivory Coast has a wealth of talent to draw on. Twenty-eight members of the squad play in European teams including Manchester City, Arsenal, Barcelona and of course Chelsea. But there are concerns about "egoism" and a poor performance in the recent African Cup of Nations in Angola disappointed many fans.

"The national team's biggest enemy is the team itself," complained Walter Ammann, Swiss director of the legendary Asec Mimosas football academy in Abidjan.

"They don't have the hunger to win," he told me. "Drogba gives 200% for Chelsea, but only 50% for the national team."

But that seems likely to change in South Africa. Everyone here is certainly praying it does. The country is in a tough group, with Brazil, Portugal and North Korea, and a possible second round encounter with Spain. There are six African countries in the finals and while Ivory Coast has the talent, Ghana is considered one of the strongest and most cohesive teams.

With less than a month in the job, Mr Eriksson is not raising expectations too high. "I suppose we will have to defend well against Portugal and Brazil."


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