With the eyes of the footballing world set to focus on Africa this summer you could forgive Sven-Goran Eriksson for starting to feel a little anxious.
The former-England manager has been charged with leading the Ivory Coast at his third World Cup but, with only 37 days left until the tournament starts in earnest, Eriksson is still in the process of assembling his back-room staff and has yet to meet half of his players – let alone train with them.
A slight cause for concern you may well imagine? Well, if Sven is feeling the pressure he certainly wasn’t letting it show whilst enjoying a relaxed chat with SL’s Iain Spragg on this week’s Soccerlens Podcast (you can listen to the full interview here).
However, Eriksson was only installed as manager of The Elephants in late March and he has admitted that his relatively late appointment hasn’t left him with a lot of time to familiarise with his new squad;
“It’s only when you come together you can start to gel. It’s more difficult [to start late] without a doubt, because I really don’t know the players personally.
Some of them I went to see myself and have a chat with, but I don’t have time to do that with 30 players around Europe, it’s physically impossible.”
Along with the all the usual worries (tactics, post-season fitness levels, never having met any of your players etc…) that play on a World Cup manager’s mind, Sven has admitted that practising penalties will feature prominently in his pre-tournament training sessions as he is keen to avoid the spot-kick heartache he suffered whilst in charge of the England national team;
“The only thing I should have done in 2006 [England were beaten by Portugal in the quarter finals of the 2006 World Cup on penalties] is to take in a mental coach for penalty shoot-outs. Of course, I will practice penalties with the Ivory Coast as we did with England every day.
The skill is one thing, but the mental strength is even more important when you’re talking about penalty shoot-outs and the World Cup.”
The Ivory Coast’s World Cup kicks off with a game against Sven’s old adversaries Portugal in Port Elizabeth on June 15th, followed by a difficult encounter with tournament favourites Brazil in Johannesburg ten days later.