(Reuters) - Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi, the youngest man in charge of any of the 32 finalists, had never coached before his surprise elevation to the job in 2012, just before the start of the World Cup qualifiers, but now he finds himself bound for Brazil.
The former France international’s appointment to one of the biggest jobs in African football, after being an armchair analyst on French television, was controversial as it came just months after Francois Zahoui had taken the Ivorian team to the final of the African Nations Cup.
They lost on penalties after an undefeated run in a tournament in which the Elephants did not concede a single goal.
Lamouchi, 42, has struggled to win over fans in his first coaching post although the convincing way that his team triumphed over Senegal in the World Cup playoffs relieved some of the tension.
Despite the pressure, Lamouchi remains clear about his intentions for the tournament in Brazil. “The objective is for us to get out of the group stage,” he told Reuters.
“The Ivory Coast have not done this before, so that would be a perfect result for us. After that, once you are in the knockout rounds, there is a feeling that all is possible. We are preparing to play as best we can at the World Cup.”
Born in Lyon to north African parents, Lamouchi made his name as a midfielder with Auxerre and Monaco before moving to Italy, where he played for Parma, Inter Milan and Genoa.
He was in the France line-up in the Euro 96 semi-final defeat to the Czech Republic and was one of six players cut from the squad by manager Aime Jacquet on the eve of the 1998 World Cup, which the French went on to win.
Lamouchi’s record in charge of the Ivorians is 10 wins in 19 matches with six draws and three defeats.
One victory against Colombia, Greece or Asian champions Japan in Group C could be enough for the country to advance in what looks like an equally balanced quartet.
Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town, editing by Tony Goodson and Mike Collett