x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Winning start will help the Elephants charge

Ganemtore Arouna believes that if his national team, Ivory Coast, can win their first game against two-time semi-finalists Portugal, then they may just get on a roll at the World Cup.

Ivory Coast fans, from left, Ganemtore Arouna, Kone el Hadji and Sanogo Ousmane talk of football at Egypt Restaurant in Dubai.
Ivory Coast fans, from left, Ganemtore Arouna, Kone el Hadji and Sanogo Ousmane talk of football at Egypt Restaurant in Dubai.

Ganemtore Arouna believes that if his national team, Ivory Coast, can win their first game against two-time semi-finalists Portugal, then they may just get on a roll at the World Cup. A keen football enthusiast and former player, Mr Arouna, a businessman, has a passion for the game and is looking forward to seeing how the African nations fare. He will, he says, support all the continent's teams - Ivory Coast, of course, being top of the list.

"This is the World Cup, and all of the teams from the African nation are representing Africa as a whole," he says outside a cafe in Deira where he and countrymen Sanogo Ousmane and Kone el Hadji, will watch the tournament. Should none of the African countries make it to the final rounds, he will turn to Germany, his European team of choice. "This is my second time to watch the World Cup in Dubai," he says. "There are some African restaurants which will be charging people to see the game if they are not eating or drinking there. We will watch it as a group, with Africans from Cameroon, Nigeria and Ivory Coast - the only problem will be the different languages."

The Ivoirian community in Dubai is close knit, Mr Arouna says. Mr el Hadji adds that football is "like a culture to us". "People will watch all of the countries participating, all of the matches," he says. "Men, women and children will all gather to watch the games - it is very important for the African people." There are 350 people from the country living in the UAE, the Ivory Coast Consulate in Dubai says, most of them working in cargo shipping. Ivory Coast, ranked 27th in the world by Fifa, are widely considered the strongest of the African teams in the competition, with the likes of Didier Drogba, the Chelsea striker, and Emmanuel Eboue, the Arsenal midfielder, among their star players. Drogba fractured an arm last weekend but hopes to be fit in time for the tournament.

But they face a tough grouping, with the world's No 1 team, Brazil, two-time semi-finalists Portugal, and North Korea their opponents. "We have the talent but perhaps not the heart," Mr Arouna says. "When they [African players] play in Europe they know that they have to play well because if they don't there is someone waiting to take their position. They know that they will just take them off. But when they play for their country they know that the coach is reluctant to remove them from the national side, because if the team lose then people may criticise the decision to remove those key players."

Georges Nidia, 24, an Ivoirian who has been in Dubai for 10 months, has been a footballer since he was a child, with ambitions of a professional career. This will be the first time he has watched the World Cup. "I never used to watch it, I never had the chance before," he shrugs. While he will fervently support the Elephants, as they are known, he is not overly optimistic of the team's chances of emerging from the group stages. "My team are very good but we are not experienced enough in the World Cup," he says.