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The "Elephants" set up camp in Montreux

Coach Sven-Göran Eriksson only started working with the team on May 17

(Keystone)

Under the bespectacled gaze of coach Sven-Göran Eriksson, a group of long-limbed “Elephants” from Ivory Coast play and bask in the early morning Swiss Riviera sun.

Since Monday, 13 of the 30 World Cup squad members have been training at the Stade de Chailly above Montreux close to Lake Geneva in preparation for the finals in South Africa that start on June 11.

“I can’t see this defence keeping out [Portuguese forward] Cristiano Ronaldo,” said a British journalist, watching the public training session on Thursday.

The tall, stocky defenders finish their short passing routines and begin a series of press-ups while Sven looks on.

The group are focusing on defensive tactics ahead of their opening game against the Portuguese.

Neither English Premier League’s Golden Boot winner Didier Drogba nor Chelsea team-mate Salomon Kalou is yet in attendance.

The FA Cup medal winners, and other Europe-based players whose seasons have just ended, have a week’s rest and will join the squad when they move camp to the Swiss resort of Saanenmöser, near Gstaad, on May 24. There they will begin two weeks’ altitude training at 1,200m.

Alpine altitude training

Ivory Coast are one of numerous national football teams currently training in the Alps ahead of the finals – seven will be in the Swiss mountains over the coming weeks.

Five of the nine host cities for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa are above 1,300m, and the final will be held at Johannesburg’s Soccer City Stadium at 1,750m. The Alps are therefore an obvious location to acclimatize and are also within the same time zone.

“The [Ivorians] are a very relaxed, friendly group and are very pleasant to work with,” said Marc Biolley, director of Matchworld Group, which negotiated the deals between teams and resorts.

“Like most African teams they leave a lot of planning to the last minute but they are organised.”

The Ivorian team were all smiles on the Chailly training pitch but Eriksson, who replaced the previous coach Vahid Halilhodzic at the end of March, admitted that the preparations were not ideal.

“It’s not the best of situations,” he told journalists at a news conference on Thursday.

“This week I’ve started to get to know the 13 players, but I have never worked with the other 17 who arrive on Monday.”

Group of death

The Swede said his team would be facing three "difficult" matches in the first round. Ivory Coast are drawn in Group G and will play their first game against Portugal, before meeting Brazil and then North Korea.

Eriksson said the team faced a "very important first game; it’s like the final for us".

“Portugal is always difficult as they are technically very good, tactically good,” he said.

But in Group G North Korea could turn out to be a dark horse, he added.

"Pay attention to North Korea. Nobody speaks about North Korea but they play good football. Physically they are better than anyone because they have been in the training camp for six months," said the new coach.

"The World Cup is very much about fitness," he said.

But Brazil and Spain were big favourites in South Africa, and England had “a bigger chance” than in the past due to their experienced squad, said Eriksson.

Big expectations

That said, the former England coach is convinced African football has come on leaps and bounds.

This year six African teams will be starting in South Africa, so “one or two will do very well”, he said.

“The expectations on the Ivorian team have been big for a long time… and it’s not different for this World Cup,” he told swissinfo.ch.

Despite the pressure, the Swede said he was motivated after an ill-fated year in charge of the Mexican national side. He was fired by Mexico last April after a 3-1 defeat in Honduras left them in danger of failing to qualify for the 2010 finals.

“Now I'm sitting here, going to the World Cup anyhow, with a very good football team, maybe better than Mexico, so I'm happy, very happy."

But Kaba Kone, general manager of the Ivorian team, denied the players were under pressure to win on their home continent.

“At the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations [where they suffered a shock defeat by Algeria in the quarterfinals] everyone told us we were favourites,” he said. “In South Africa we are the outsiders... we have nothing to lose.”

And to help the team reach their peak, the Ivorian Football Association and the government have spared no expense on training conditions in Switzerland, he said.

“The Ivorian team is our export product today,” said Kone. “Football has replaced the cocoa from Ivory Coast.”

Simon Bradley in Montreux, swissinfo.ch

Ivory Coast squad:

Goalkeepers: Vincent Angban (Asec, Ivory Coast), Boubacar Barry (Lokeren, Belgium), Aristides Zogbo (Maccabi Netanya, Israel), Daniel Yeboah (Asec, Ivory Coast).

Defenders: Souleymane Bamba (Hibernian, Scotland), Arthur Boka (VB Stuttgart, Germany), Benjamin Brou Angoua (Valenciennes, France), Guy Demel (Hamburg SV, Germany), Emmanuel Eboue (Arsenal, England), Abdoulaye Meite (West Bromwich Albion, England), Steve Gohouri (Wigan Athletic, England), Siaka Tiene (Valenciennes, France), Kolo Toure (Manchester City, England).

Midfielders: Emerse Fae (Nantes, France), Jean-Jacques Gosso Gosso(Monaco, France), Abdelkader Keita (Galatasaray, Turkey), Emmanuel Kone (International Curtea Arges, Romania), Gervinho (Lille, France), Christian Koffi Ndri (Sevilla, Spain), Cheik Ismael Tiote (Twente Enschede, Holland), Yaya Toure (Barcelona, Spain), Gilles Yapi Yapo (Young Boys Bern, Switzerland), Didier Zokora (Sevilla, Spain), Traore Lacina (CFR Cluj, Romania).

Forwards: Kanga Akale (Racing Lens, France), Aruna Dindane (Racing Lens, France), Seydou Doumbia (Young Boys Bern, Switzerland), Didier Drogba (Chelsea, England), Salomon Kalou (Chelsea, England), Bakary Kone (Olympique Marseille, France).

end of infobox

Training camps in Switzerland

Switzerland: Crans Montana, May 25 to June 4.
Algeria: Crans Montana, May 13-26.
North Korea: Anzère, May 10-23
Ivory Coast : Saanenmöser, May 24-June 9.
Greece: Bad Ragaz, May 21- June 2.
Japan: Saas Fee, May 26-June 6

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