We preview the 2010 FIFA World Cup, set for June 11-July 11 in South Africa.
Appearance: Second overall, second consecutive
Last time there: 2006, exited in first round
Best performance: Has never advanced past first round
While the first World Cup for Ivory Coast ended quickly in 2006, they did win their last match, a 3-2 triumph over Serbia & Montenegro. There was promise shown, thanks to a creative attack and a group of midfielders that understood Job No. 1 was to get the ball on the foot of Didier Drogba, an elite striker for Barclays Premier League and FA Cup champion Chelsea.
Qualifying for South Africa was surprisingly easy, as they blew through unbeaten. However, Ivory Coast met up with adversity in the Africa Nations Cup, where they fell to Algeria in extra time in the quarterfinals.
That match, along with their 2006 finals cameo, showed both the brilliance and the potential agony of Ivory Coast. They are very strong on the attack, and quite weak on defense.
Drogba is the leader. He can play at this level, and he continues to prove that. His midfield, led by Yaya Toure and Didier Zokora, can get him the ball and let him make magic happen.
The defensive issues should dog this entry, however. Kolo Toure is a capable defender, but he gets himself in trouble by playing too emotionally at times, and there isn't enough help around him for him to be able to afford to lose his head.
The experience of 2006 and their relatively poor showing at the AFC a few months ago should be sufficient motivation. Ivory Coast might not have a winning pedigree in soccer just yet, but they've built a team around coach Sven Goran Eriksson that should be in better position to perform well.
The question now becomes whether they can survive being in Group G with Brazil and Portugal. Despite North Korea's presence, this has the feel of a Group of Death.
June 15 vs. Portugal (Port Elizabeth)
June 20 vs. Brazil (Johannesburg -- Soccer City)
June 25 vs. North Korea (Nelspruit)