Int'l Soccer: Drogba expects 'difficult' match vs Israel

Ivory Coast and Chelsea striker praises Tal Ben-Haim ahead of friendly in Ramat Gan.

drogba celebrates 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
drogba celebrates 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
A calm and composed Didier Drogba appeared to have left his troubles back in London as he faced the Israeli press on Tuesday ahead of Wednesday's friendly game between the Ivory Coast and Israel at National Stadium in Ramat Gan. The Chelsea striker has become embroiled in controversy after he threw a coin back at fans of Burnley FC during a League Cup game last week. But he managed to avoid addressing the issue during a press conference in Tel Aviv, instead focusing on his relationship with former manager Avraham Grant and former teammate Tal Ben-Haim. Drogba and Solomon Kalou met with Grant on Tuesday and spoke of the experience of being guided by the Israeli. "We got to the final of every competition but unfortunately we didn't win any title," Drogba said, countering rumors that he fell out with Grant during the seven months he ran affairs at Stamford Bridge. "We all learned a lot from him. He's different from the managers I had in the past, but every manager is different and they all have their own style. "Wednesday's match is going to be very difficult. Israel is having a fantastic qualification and it's going to be tough for us. They are in front of us in the rankings and that means a lot." Drogba also had only good things to say about his Ben-Haim, who now plays for Manchester City after leaving Chelsea in the summer. "Tal is my good friend. When he displayed some good skills during training we called him Benaldinho," the striker revealed. The game against Ivory Coast is the first of two international friendlies Israel will play in preparation for next year's World Cup qualifiers against Greece. The national team, which hosts Greece on March 28 and visits Athens just four days later, is currently second in Group 2 with eight points, winning two and drawing two of its four matches. Dror Kashtan's side, which also hosts Hungary in a friendly on February 11, will be playing on Wednesday for the first time since conceding a heartbreaking equalizer against Latvia last month and the coach admitted on Tuesday that one of the goals of the Ivory Coast friendly is to help the players put that disappointment behind them. "We must learn from our mistakes. Latvia's goal is history now and we need to come to terms with the fact that those two points are lost," Kashtan said. "These friendlies are going to help us prepare for the rest of the World Cup campaign as the more we are together the better we play." Facing Kashtan's men will be an Ivory Coast lineup which will look a little like an all-star team. Even without Barcelona's injured midfielder Yaya Toure, the Elephants will be fielding some of the biggest stars in world soccer. Chelsea's Drogba and Kalou, Arsenal's Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue, Tottenham's Didier Zokora and Marseille's Bakari Kone are all likely to be in coach's Vahid Halihodzic team, but the Bosnian still amazingly claimed that he believes Israel is the favorite. "It's important for me to see how my players play as a time rather than individuals," Halihodzic said. "We're taking this match seriously and we will try and play well despite the fact Israel is the favorite." Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder Maro Buzaglo will be hoping Kashtan gives him the chance to face Drogba and, despite the fact Israel's next qualifier is still more than four months away he believes Wednesday's match is far from meaningless. "Everybody knows our real test will be against Greece," Buzaglo said. "But this is an important step on the way to those matches." Earlier Wednesday, Israel's Under-21 team will face Serbia at Ramat Gan, also in a friendly game.