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Eriksson seeks to shrug off ghosts of tournaments past

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09:56 CEST+02:00
Sven-Göran Eriksson is hoping to lead the Ivory Coast out of a World Cup group populated by Brazil and Portugal, sides that dumped England out of major tournaments when the Swede was at the helm.

The 62-year-old Swede recently put in charge of Didier Drogba-skippered Ivory Coast must face both his old demons during the first round next month in what is widely

regarded as the toughest of the eight first-round groups in South Africa.

Only mini-league winners and runners-up qualify for the knockout phase of the four-yearly football showpiece, meaning Brazil, Ivory Coast or Portugal will be flying home long before the June 11-July 11 showpiece ends.

Brazil have been crowned champions a record five times and are favoured to win a group completed by rank outsiders North Korea, leaving the Ivorians and Portuguese fighting for the second slot.

They clash in the opening Group G fixture on June 15 in Port Elizabeth and Eriksson concedes the losers will be in serious trouble just 90 minutes into their World Cup campaign.

"We play Portugal first and it will be a decisive match, like a final to both teams," he admitted ahead of the showdown at the 45,000-seat Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in the Indian Ocean city of Port Elizabeth.

"I am desperate for a change of luck as Portugal knocked England out of the World Cup four years ago and out of the Euro 2004 with both games being settled by penalty shoot-outs."

Brazil put paid to England's 2002 World Cup dreams.

Eriksson was appointed less than three months before the World Cup after Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic paid the ultimate price for a 2010 African Nations Cup quarter-finals exit by the west African 'Elephants'.

Furious at being dumped after two losses in two years, Halilhodzic warned Eriksson he was inheriting "great players, but not a great team, as some do not want to play with others.

"I think the Nations Cup defeat against Algeria was good because it revealed these internal fractures," Halilhodzic told Ivorian newspaper Le Patriote after his dismissal.

Drogba, fellow striker Salomon Kalou, midfielders Yaya Toure and Didier Zokora and defenders Emmanuel Eboue and Kolo Toure head a 'golden generation' of Ivorians who have promised much but delivered no silverware.

"Some of us are getting on age wise and the World Cup will probably be our last chance. I would love to lift a trophy and go out in style," Spain-based 'enforcer' Zokora said wishfully.

"We have been around for about 10 years without achieving anything. That is so frustrating and it would be a huge waste if we did not win a trophy with this generation."

Time-strapped Eriksson has only friendlies against fellow World Cup qualifiers Paraguay and Japan before naming the team to face Portugal and Boubacar Barry seems set to remain first-choice goalkeeper.

Eboue, Kolo Toure, Souleymane Bamba and Siaka Tiene are strong contenders for back-four places and the midfield quartet should include Zokora and Yaya Toure with Chelsea team-mates Drogba and Kalou the strike force.

Good enough to survive the 'group of death'? Maybe. Good enough to knock out possible second-round opponents Spain? Maybe not. Good enough to go all the way and become the first African winners of the World Cup? Definitely not.

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