Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi (Photo: Reuters)
Coach Sabri Lamouchi is determined to build a new-look Ivory Coast side for the next World Cup without Didier Drogba, Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue, the high-profile players who have been the bedrock of the team for almost a decade.
The axing of captain Drogba, Toure and Eboue from a 26-man squad named last week to play two World Cup qualifiers next month signals a new direction for Africa's top-ranked side as the inexperienced coach asserts his authority.
"A team that does not change does not evolve," said the former France international in an interview published by the Ivorian Football Federation on its website.
The surprise decisions follow the disappointment of failing again at the African Nations Cup in South Africa at the start of the year when all three players were dropped from the team after ineffectual performances.
Lamouchi, who had no coaching experience before being handed the Ivory Coast job a year ago, offered no coherent reason for the dropping of Drogba, months after he had said the striker was still seen as the leader of the bid to qualify for next year's World Cup in Brazil and only needed time to work on his fitness.
"There is no explanation for not choosing him. It is in line with our determination to be consistent and transparent," he said cryptically.
However, he also made clear he felt that, at the age of 35, Drogba was well past his prime and that Toure and Eboue were also no longer effective at international level.
"I have to make sure to take players who are physically ready and who are determined to bring us the two wins necessary to qualify for the World Cup. The goal for us is to make sure we take top place," he said.
"I want to instil the mindset that while the talent belongs to the players they must use it to the benefit of the group."
Ivory Coast, who lead their group standings by a single point from Tanzania at the halfway point, play Gambia away in Bakau on June 8 and Tanzania in Dar-es-Salaam on June 16.
Drogba looks likely to end his international career six caps short of a century of appearances and just over a week after he helped his club Galatasaray to win the league championship in Turkey.
In March, when he dropped Drogba from the squad for the first time, Lamouchi said: "Didier is the captain of the Elephants. I'm counting on him in the World Cup qualifiers but he needs to get back to his competitive standards. I have no doubt that we will see the return of Didier Drogba at the highest level. Any team would need players of his great calibre."
Drogba, who was the catalyst for the elevation of the Ivorian side to the top-ranked team in Africa with 57 goals in 94 appearances, has since played regularly in the Turkish league and helped his side to reach the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League.
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