by neiL HoDge from Times & TranscripT June 11
For almost a decade, Ivory Coast made headlines for all the wrong reasons due to a civil war. Now, it’s in the spotlight for something positive.
When the 2014 FIFA World Cup begins tomorrow in Brazil, it marks the African country’s third consecutive time qualifying for this tournament. The first World Cup took place in 1930 and the Ivory Coast’s only previous appearances were in 2006 and 2010. “We love soccer, but we’re a small country,”said Christian Yapi, a 22-year-old Ivory Coast native who plays for Moncton Tom Cormier Co-operators First Touch in the McCain New Brunswick Premier Soccer League.
“This is our third participation in the World Cup so we’re still new to it. It’s a big thing for our country to qualify for this tournament. If we can get out of (opening round) group stage play and make it to the quarter-finals, that would be a really big achievement for our country.”
There are 32 countries in the 2014 World Cup. Following are the groups for opening-round play; the top two teams in each group advance to the quarter-finals.
Group A – Brazil, Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon
Group B – Spain (defending champion), Netherlands, Chile and Australia
Group C – Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan
Group D – Uruguay, Costa Rica, England and Italy
Group E – Switzerland, Ecuador, France and Honduras
Group F – Argentina, Bosnia, Iran and Nigeria
Group G – Germany, Portugal, Ghana and the United States
Group H – Belgium, Algeria, Russia and Korea
Eight countries have won the previous 19 World Cups: Brazil, Italy, Germany, Argentina, Uruguay, England, France and Spain. Brazil leads the way with five championships, followed by Italy with four and Germany with three.
Ivory Coast failed to make it past the opening round in its first two World Cup appearances. Various publications predict that Columbia will be the top seed in Group C with Ivory Coast standing a good chance of being the second team to advance.
“It was especially good the first time that Ivory Coast qualified for the World Cup in 2006,” said Yapi. “It was during a period of war back then and people were scared. It moved the mind of people from politics a little. It was something positive that distracted people a little.”
Yapi believes that Germany or Brazil will win this year’s World Cup.
The 19 previous World Cups saw 10 champions emerge from Europe and nine from South America. Three of the past four champions have come from Europe.
The betting firms list Brazil as the favourite in this year’s World Cup, followed by Argentina, Germany and Spain. Ivory Coast is considered the strongest among the five African countries in the tournament with the continent’s other qualifiers being Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and Algeria.
“I started playing soccer at age six or seven in Ivory Coast,” said Yapi. “It wasn’t organized.
“There are some fields, but it’s mostly played in the streets. People weren’t teaching us how to play when I started. We just had a ball and we played in the streets.
“We love soccer in my country. Everybody plays it. It’s like hockey in Canada. Everybody in my country will be watching the World Cup on television.”
P.E.I. FC, 7-1-0, sits atop the Mc-Cain New Brunswick Premier Soccer League. Moncton is runner-up at 3-0-0, followed by the Fredericton Reds at 2-2-0, Fredericton Wanderers at 1-3-1 and Fundy United at 0-7-0.
Moncton will continue the 16-game regular season with a pair at home. It will meet the Reds tomorrow and the Wanderers on Friday, both 7:30 p.m. starts at the Crandall University field.