Country: Cote d’Ivoire
Nickname: The Elephants
US Sports team equivalent: Milwaukee Bucks
Player to Watch: Kalou. Now that Drogba is out, Salomon Kalou becomes the Ivorian’s primary scoring option.
Artist to Watch: Get your hands on one of the many Coupe-Decale compilations.
Like that of most nations engaged in political discord, Ivorian music is marked by its social consciousness. Presently, Coupe-Decale is the dominant popular music of Cote d’Ivoire (it’s closest western relative being electro or a French reggaeton), and like the football team, its success and national infatuation is a new-millennial development. Cote d’Ivoire’s name, primary language and love of soccer all stem from their colonizers. Similarly, Coupe-Decale got its start as a counter-hegemony movement of the Ivorian Diaspora of Paris, France where artists combined western DJ-styles with Congolese rhythms. Even though Coupe-Decale is a hybrid genre, it is still decidedly Ivorian: strong, fast and optimistic.
Coupe-Decale emerged from political and economic turmoil, conditions that the members of Les Elephants have not shied away from injecting themselves. And by African national team standards, the Ivorian team is star-studded. Didier Drogba, the most recognizable African athlete in the world who has scored in better than every other appearance for his national team, plays along side compatriot Salomon Kalou at Chelsea. Brothers Yaya and Kolo Toure play club ball for Barcelona and Manchester City, respectively. Emmanuel Eboue laces up for Arsenal. Of course, June 3rd, during a friendly with Japan, Drogba shattered his elbow, removing the best player and team captain from the competition.
But the biggest name attached to this team is that of Sven-Goran Eriksson, the famed Swedish manager who coached the English team in the ’02 and ’06 world cups. Since then, Eriksson has been better off renting than buying. He served less than one year of his three-year contract with Manchester City. He took over the manager’s position for the Mexican national team in August of 2008, but lasted less than a year. In both cases, expectations in the minds of ownership and fans exceeded the talent on the pitch. Eriksson should be prepared for no-lesser expectations while leading Les Elephants, considered by many to be the toast of the continent. The fans had been predicting at least a trip to the semi-finals, which given the talent of this team is not an unrealistic expectation.
Both coach and team have their work cut out for them on that front. First up is the proverbial Group of Death, where Cote d’Ivoire must outlast Portugal and Brazil, two squads with similar sights set on the championship. (And who even knows what North Korea will bring to the pitch?) If expectation and talent (both of which are certainly reduced with the loss of Drogba) where all it took to win it the championship, the Ivorians would be favored. Perhaps the nation’s willingness to adapt outside influences and repackage them as their own will prove as beneficial on the pitch as in the dancehall.