World Cup scouting: Ivory Coast / Denmark

by Matthew Wood

We’re a third of our way through the World Cup teams now with the Ivory Coast and Denmatk featuring in today’s socut report.

The Ivory Coast will appear at their second consecutive World Cup Finals in South Africa, after finishing third in a group consisting of Argentina, Holland and Serbia in 2006.

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Having captained his country in the 2008 Olympic Games, the Ivorians are placing plenty of faith in 22-year-old Gervinho.

After scoring 54 goals in 66 games as a teenager for his first professional club, KSK Beveren from Belgium, Gervinho made his name as a predatory striker and was quickly identified as one of Africa’s brightest prospects.

He joined French club Le Mans in 2007, but despite a prior reputation as a lethal goal scorer he was quickly transformed into a right-side attacking midfield player. The transition though arguably developed his ability to beat defenders with his electrifying pace and quick feet.

Regardless, the Ivorian continued to produce some impressive performances that attracted interest from around the continent. Speaking in 2008, Gervinho claimed: “Today I am a bit known in Europe. Arsenal have spoken to my agents and they are looking at it.

“Arsenal are a big team, they have made it clear they want me.”

The move to the Emirates didn’t materialise though and following a second season with Le Mans the youngster ended up signing for Lille, breaking their existing transfer record. During his time with Les Dogues, Gervinho has mainly been employed on the right-hand side of a three-man forward line, re-igniting his promise as a striker with 13 goals in Ligue 1 this season.

Internationally, despite only one start in qualifying, the striker notched two goals against Guinea and donned the number 10 shirt.

With Salomon Kalou, Didier Drogba and Aruna Dindane there’s no shortage of competition for the Ivory Coast’s forward line but the Lille star, who will turn 23 shortly before the tournament, admits he will be staying in French football no matter what happens this summer.

“I’m staying at Lille. I want to relive the moments we had this year in the Europa League and next season why not play another competition and take on the other big teams in beautiful stadiums.”

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Having finished top of a qualification group that contained Scandinavian rivals Sweden and a Cristiano Ronaldo inspired Portugal, Denmark could find it similarly tough this summer. In what is likely to be one of the most closely fought groups, the Danes will be hoping to overcome Cameroon, Holland and Japan to make the last 16.

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At the heart of their defence will be 21-year-old Simon Kjaer. A centre-back who only made his international bow in February 2009 but is expected to form a partnership with Liverpool’s Daniel Agger in South Africa.

Awarded the Danish talent of the year in 2009, Kjaer has made a phenomenal rise to international stardom having only come to domestic recognition in 2008.

Kjaer’s international debut resulted in a 1-0 win over qualification rivals Sweden and the Dane was widely praised for his marshalling of Barca striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Playing with Palermo in Italy, the youngster’s form has aided the Rosanero’s push for a Champions League place in Serie A.

Described by many as one of the hottest defensive prospects in world football, an impressive tournament could prompt bids from Europe’s top teams. Although the starlet has already expressed a desire to ply his trade in the Premier League, specifically sounding out Liverpool as his potential destination.

“England and the physical playing style would probably suit me better,” said Kjaer. “In case the right offers come, it would be exciting to form a partnership with (Daniel) Agger at Liverpool,” he added.

With parent club Palermo apparently braced for his exit after this summer’s World Cup, an £11m fee is likely to be required to trigger the release cause in the Dane’s contract.

With his intelligent reading of the game, impressive anticipation and quick feet it’s almost inevitable that Simon Kjaer will be one of the defensive stars of the 2010 World Cup and cue a battle for his signature.

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