Eriksson banking on Drogba all-clear to kick-start Elephants
A NATION waits on the health bulletin from Didier Drogba. Ivory Coast coach Sven-Goran Eriksson is only two months into his post but already feels at home.
Wrestling with failing body parts, from metatarsals to hamstrings, was a significant feature of Eriksson's England experience. Drogba's broken arm is 10 days into the healing process.
A decision on his fitness for Ivory Coast's opener against Portugal in Port Elizabeth today will be delayed until the last moment.
The Chelsea striker was waiting to hear from FIFA whether or not he will be allowed to play wearing a protective arm cast after training with his team-mates at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium last night.
Though the Ivorians are preaching the importance of the squad mentality under Eriksson, Drogba is the bonding agent that holds this team together. At least this game will not go to penalties, which must be some comfort to Eriksson, who saw England lose twice via the Portuguese guillotine at the European Championships in 2004 and the last World Cup.
Like England, the Ivory Coast carry an expectation that is hardly merited by results.
Eriksson was appointed after the team's failure in the African Cup of Nations in January, when they departed at the quarter-final stage. At their only World Cup finals appearance, in 2006, Ivory Coast did not progress from the group.
Manchester City's Kolo Toure will captain the side if Drogba does not play. He claims Eriksson has already made a difference, instilling much-needed discipline and organisation. "The squad is made up of some world-class players but football remains a team game," Toure said.
"The coach has been trying to build a proper team and we are on track. He has put an added emphasis on playing as a team and not just as a collection of individuals.
"We've always had good players, but have never been able to properly work together as an effective unit, defending and attacking as one. That's what we've been working on, and we hope that it'll bear fruit, starting with our first match versus Portugal."
With Brazil the alpha force in the group, this is arguably the key fixture for both teams; hence the willingness of Eriksson to even consider risking his captain.
"He's so important for us," Eriksson said. "He's the captain, he has lots of experience and he's played at the highest level for years now. He's also had a great season with his club." (© Daily Telegraph, London)