Entire nation stands behind 'Elephants'

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:11 PM ET

DURBAN - It has the feel of something special.

Why else would FIFA start trimming media requests to the game because of the overwhelming demand for credentials?

And why else would soccer's governing body ban the two teams from practising at Soccer City this weekend in order to maintain the pristine nature of the pitch?

Because this is big, that's why.

Indeed, the anticipation leading into Sunday's Brazil-Ivory Coast contest is swelling throughout South Africa, with an entire continent putting its hope on the Elephants.

Led by former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson and lethal striker Didier Drogba, Ivory Coast is not backing down at the challenge of facing soccer's five-time World Champions. Far from it.

"I've never had such a smiling, happy team in my coaching career," Eriksson said. "The reason I'm enjoying is that I'm working with a lot of good football players. They are listening, enjoying their football and working very hard.

"What we are trying to do is to get organized at the back, and the players are happy to take that on board."

Brazilian manager Dunga knows Eriksson very well, having played for him in Fiorentina in the late 1980s.

"Eriksson is a very well-prepared coach," Dunga said. "We know that whatever he is preparing for Brazil, it will make things difficult for us. His team is always well setup tactically and plays good football."

Ivory Coast will be led by Chelsea striker Didier Drogba, who is playing with a fractured arm. When asked if his health would be an issue, Drogba nodded no.

"I think everyone saw that I gave the best of myself against Portugal," Drogba said of returning to the lineup earlier this week.

"As soon as I went out on the pitch, I forgot about my injury and the pain. I'm afraid of nothing and I feel really good both physically and mentally.

"I'm happy to be here and playing football."

The South African fans couldn't agree more.


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