By RON FANFAIR
Former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson is the Ivory Coast’s new soccer coach.
“There is a lot of hard work ahead of me, but I like that,” Eriksson said shortly after being appointed last week. “I am extremely happy and very excited. The Ivory Coast is a good soccer nation with a lot of good players. It couldn’t be better.”
Ivory Coast will oppose Portugal, Brazil and North Korea in the first round of this year’s World Cup in South Africa. This will be Eriksson’s third trip to the sport’s showpiece tournament, having guided England to the quarter-finals in 2002 and 2006.
He’s confident that he has a strong Ivory Coast side at his disposal.
“Didier Drogba is one of the best strikers in the world and he has shown that for many years now in the English Premier League,” said Eriksson. “There are other great players too including Eboue at Arsenal, Saloman Kalou, Kolo Toure and his brother Taya at Barcelona. The only problem is that we are not together until May 22, but that is the same for most of the teams. I am going to start travelling now to see all the players around Europe and in the Ivory Coast too.”
Eriksson replaces Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic who was sacked last month after the Elephants failed to reach the Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals.
Mark Hughes and former Real Madrid coach Bernd Schuster had also been under consideration for the role after Guus Hiddink turned down the opportunity.
The Ivory Coast Soccer Federation is confident that Eriksson is the right man for the job.
“He’s an experienced coach who has proved himself,” the federation said in a statement. “His objective is to ensure an honourable participation at the upcoming World Cup.
The new coach acknowledged that his team is in a tough group in this summer’s World Cup.
“We are in a difficult group and it will not be easy, but I think the Ivory Coast with all their talents can get through,” he said. “That’s the first target and we will have to work very hard at it. Brazil is one of the favourites and Portugal is one of the best teams in Europe.
“But there are six African countries in the World Cup, it is in Africa for the first time and I am sure two or three will spring some big surprises and we have to make sure we are one of those to do that. We should have lots of support and the tournament in South Africa should be very good for the whole continent and the game of soccer.”
Since leaving England after the 2006 World Cup, Eriksson managed Manchester City and Mexico, and he was most recently the director of soccer at Notts County.
The Ivory Coast is Africa’s second highest ranked team in the International Soccer Federation rankings. Nigeria is listed at 23rd while the Ivory Coast is 25th.