Côte d’Ivoire stars back Eriksson

Côte d’Ivoire’s stars backed their new coach Sven-Goran Eriksson as the squad continued a crash course of introductions to each other ahead of the Soccer World Cup.

Defender Kolo Toure hailed Eriksson as one of the world’s best coaches, and striker Didier Drogba said on Wednesday that the Ivorians were preparing well at their camp in the Swiss Alps, despite starting work with their Swedish boss only last week.

The 62-year-old former England and Mexico coach was appointed to take over a talented Côte d’Ivoire squad in March, and has little time to prepare before facing heavyweights Portugal and Brazil in Group G in South Africa.

“We couldn’t have anyone better,” Toure said of Eriksson. “He knows what we are capable of, what strengths we have and what weaknesses we need to improve on. He’s a top-class manager.”

Asked how the pre-tournament camp with Eriksson had gone, Drogba added: “Everything has been really great.”

Under Eriksson, England was dumped out in the World Cup quarterfinals in 2006 by Portugal and four years earlier by Brazil — the opponents for Côte d’Ivoire’s first two matches. Their final group game is against North Korea.

A wealth of talent
Côte d’Ivoire boasts plenty of talent. Toure is joined by his brother Yaya, a Spanish champion with Barcelona, and seasoned European stars in Sevilla’s Didier Zokora, Chelsea’s Salomon Kalou and Arsenal’s Emmanuel Eboue.

But the undoubted leader is Drogba, an imposing striker of immaculate touch who powered Chelsea to the English Premier League title with a league-leading 29 goals in 32 matches.

Eriksson declined to be interviewed, but his longtime assistant Tord Grip summed up the importance of Drogba in typical Nordic understatement.

“He’s good,” Grip said.

“The priority in training is to form the team,” Grip said.

Côte d’Ivoire has until June 1 to trim its 30-man provisional squad down to 23. It plays a friendly against Paraguay in neighboring France on Sunday, and Grip said the exercise would also help Eriksson and his assistants get a better idea of the starting 11.

The Ivorians kick off against Portugal in the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium at Port Elizabeth on June 15 and take on five-time World Cup winner Brazil at Soccer City in Johannesburg five days later.

There’s been some criticism of the decision to give the team to Eriksson, after his predecessor Vahid Halilhodzic guided the team to qualify. Halilhodzic was punished for a disappointing loss to Algeria in the African Cup of Nations quarterfinals.

Eriksson has said the primary objective for the World Cup should be reaching the last 16.

Toure acknowledged the difficult task.

“We know it’s going to be difficult, and we have to perform well,” he said.

“But it’s all in our hands. We have a big chance and a great manager. We might be considered outsiders, but we can make it.” — Sapa-AP

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