This, as you've probably heard mentioned, will be the first African World Cup. There is a sentimental belief that an African team should do well in an African World Cup, and given Ivory Coast are the African side with the greatest glut of players familiar to fans from the Champions League, the assumption seems to be that they will somehow achieve great things in South Africa. If it does,
Actually that probably is the case, if only because he was the designated scapegoat after England's pitiful showing at the 2006 World Cup, when it reached the quarterfinal but only by playing football of the most soul-crushing tedium. But still, the task facing anybody taking over the Ivory Coast is monstrous if it is to live up to the expectation that sees it 10th-favorite for the tournament with the bookmakers.
To start with, let's look at this idea that African sides will be favored by playing in Africa. There is, admittedly, a mood of pan-Africanism that means that black South Africans are likely to support other black African teams at the tournament. This is something on which everybody connected with the World Cup organization from the CEO,
That may be some advantage, but it doesn't mean that conditions in South Africa will favour, say, Ivory Coast. Its last World Cup game, for instance, was played in Munich, which is a little over 3000 miles from Abidjan, where
But the Ivory Coast's problems run deeper than that. This Ivory Coast generation is arguably as good as any generation ever produced by any African nation. Drogba,
Talk of misfortune with the draw, though, is to miss glaring flaws in the team itself. Ivory Coast has a nucleus of fine players, but they all prefer to play in central areas, and all of them have games based on power rather than subtlety, and that makes the team predictable.
A lack of creativity is a common problem in west Africa, but it is compounded in Ivory Coast by the deficiencies in its back four.
Even more problematic is the goalkeeping position, where
After that defeat, which came despite Ivory Coast taking the lead in the final minute, Halilhodzic admitted that it was "unacceptable."
"If a team does that to itself it doesn't deserve to win," said Halihodzic. "Two years of work have gone in a minute." What was worrying was not merely the defensive inadequacy, but the lack of gamecraft. This is now an experienced side and, frankly, it should know better.
The "tragedy," as Halilhodzic said the defeat was regarded in the Ivory Coast, was then compounded by the decision to sack him. For all their flaws, that was the Ivory Coast's first competitive defeat in two years, which is indicative of the general problem international managers face, that tough competitive matches come round so rarely.
In Angola, he at least was with the squad for three weeks, lived with the players through the trauma of the attack on the Togo team bus near Cabidna, where they were based, and coached them through three games, in which they were deserved winners against Ghana before producing poorer displays against Burkina Faso and Algeria. Halilhodzic, at least, could have been expected to have an understanding of his squad and so be able, as far as possible given the players available, to address its weaknesses.
Eriksson is arriving cold. His first scheduled game as coach is a friendly against Paraguay on May 30, 15 days before Ivory Coast begins its World Cup campaign against Portugal. Were this a European team he were taking over, that would be hard enough, but he has never coached in Africa before, has no experience of the difficulties of infrastructure or the stifling politics of the football federation.
Being England manager has been regarded as "the impossible job" since