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Team preview: Ivory Coast

June 4, 2010
Latham By Brent Latham
Special to ESPN.com
(Archive)

Ivory Coast's World Cup hopes were potentially damaged when talismanic striker Didier Drogba broke his arm in a final tune-up match against Japan. We probably won't know whether Drogba will play until Ivory Coast's first game, so it's hard to predict what to expect from the Elephants until game time.

The story of Ivory Coast has been well documented ahead of the first African World Cup. Many want to declare the Elephants, with their lineup of high profile Europe-based players, the main African hope. But their track record simply doesn't inspire much confidence, and a place in a group with Brazil and Portugal doesn't help.

Behind Drogba, Ivory Coast eased into a second straight World Cup. The team's stars have spoken openly about their desire to win something while still in their prime, the team having failed to bring home a trophy in nearly two decades. But coaching upheaval and a large dose of pressure threaten to end the Elephants' hopes before they can get off the ground in South Africa.

Coach: Sven-Goran Eriksson

Eriksson is well known in the world of international soccer, but not necessarily for his successes. After an up-and-down stint as England manager that included the last two World Cups, Eriksson flunked an assignment with Mexico, nearly costing that nation a place in this year's World Cup.

Installed belatedly in March, with only a few months to choose a squad, Eriksson's role will largely be as a game manager for the talented Elephants. With his ample experience, he ought to be able to perform that task at least as well as most of the other coaches headed to South Africa.

Style of play

Eriksson has historically preferred a more traditional 4-4-2, but Ivory Coast's personnel is better suited to a 4-3-3 with fluid wing play. Ivory Coast boasts speed all over the pitch, and some medal in the middle of the field in the form of the Toure brothers (Yaha and Kolo). The Ivorians will look to take advantage of their pace out wide, with Salomon Kalou and Gervinho manning the flanks, and Drogba hopefully lurking around the opponents' box.

Players to watch

1. Kolo Toure. With the less experienced Souleymane Bamba likely to pair with him in the center of defense, the older Toure brother will have his hands full against Brazil and Portugal. Known for occasional lapses in concentration, he'll need to be paying full attention to attackers if the Elephants hope to qualify for the second round.

2. Boubacar Barry. Goalkeeping is often considered Ivory Coast's weakest link, and their starter, Barry, has struggled for playing time this year at his club team in Belgium. Despite the big names in the Ivory Coast squad, it will be Barry's play that could be decisive.

3. Didier Drogba. Perhaps the greatest player ever to come out of Africa, much of Drogba's legacy -- if he plays, of course -- is riding on Ivory Coast's performance in this tournament. And much of the Elephants' performance in this tournament will now be riding on Drogba's health.

Who's hot

Gervinho. The shifty attacker scored 13 goals in Ligue One this season. Drogba and Kalou would figure to capture most of the defensive attention, leaving this speedy winger with a little more space to wreak havoc.

Who's not

Arthur Boka. The left back has hardly featured this year for Stuttgart, and looks to have been supplanted in the Elephants' lineup by Siaka Tiene.

Three key questions

1. Is this team really any good? For years now, the Elephants have ridden their reputation and the names of their stars to the title of "best team in Africa." They don't have to win the World Cup to have a successful campaign in South Africa, but it's time to put up or shut up.

2. If he plays, can Drogba step up his play yet again? The Ivorians have a litany of international talents, but Drogba is their uncontested superstar. His international strike rate is sensational, and he is capable of winning even the highest-caliber matches on sheer determination.

3. Do they have the quality depth to meet the challenge? Beyond the half-dozen superstars, and another handful of solid international players, Ivory Coast's quality drops off substantially. Do they have the depth in midfield or quality in the back to navigate what awaits them in Group G and beyond?

Projected lineup

G Boubacar Barry, KSC Lokeren (Belgium)
D Emmanuel Eboue, Arsenal (England)
D Kolo Toure, Manchester City (England)
D Souleymane Bamba, Hibernian (Scotland)
D Siaka Tiene, Valenciennes (France)
M Romaric, Sevilla (Spain)
M Yaya Toure, FC Barcelona (Spain)
M Didier Zokora, Sevilla (Spain)
F Salomon Kalou, Chelsea (England)
F Gervinho, Lille (France)
F Didier Drogba, Chelsea (England)