Monday, May 22, 2006

World Cup Spotlight: Cote d'Ivoire

On the day the Elephants returned home victorious from their unexpected World Cup qualification last October, Ivorians danced in the streets and declared the country reunified after years of civil war, the president promised each member of the qualifying squad a villa worth 30 million African francs, and the players asked that their success act as a "catalyst for peace."

Most-recognizable players include, of course, Chelsea's Didier Drogba as well as Arsenal defenders Emmanuel Eboue (as faithful readers of a pretty move will recall, much-maligned here of late) and Abib Kolo Toure. If you follow French football you'll know most of the rest as well; much of the squad was selected from Ligue 1 clubs. They're coached by former French international/Nantes Atlantique midfielder (playing a record 532 matches for the club)/France manager Henri Michel.

Another debutant at the tournament, Cote d'Ivoire are reputed to be perhaps the strongest African nation in the Cup but face a brutal struggle in the group phase, having drawn into Group C along with Argentina, the Netherlands, and Serbia and Montenegro. If they can fight their way into the round of 16, though, they may well turn out to be the little team that keeps the 2006 World Cup anything but predictable.

Meanwhile, the country itself prepares for rebel disarmaments and national elections in hopes of putting the last few troubled years behind them. Perhaps the national squad will conjure up a performance next month in Germany that will bring some hope to Ivorians as they stitch their tattered country back together again.


Ghost Dog said...

Toure is one of my favorites. I hope he and the rest of his national team have a good run of things in Germany.

Derek said...

Group C is really tough--only because there's no sure thing there. Of course, you'd have to pick Argentina to make it out, but I think Cote d'Ivoire will as well. I like 'em. And after reading what happened to the team after they were kicked out of the 2000 African Nations Cup--they were locked up at an army base and "publicly denounced" for embarrassing the country--I hope they play courageously.