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Ivory Coast Threatens Soccer Team

February 4, 2000

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) _ Talk about pressure to play well.

Ivory Coast’s military leader denounced the national soccer team and threatened players with army service if they have another bad game, a government-run newspaper reported Friday.

Gen. Robert Guei spoke to the players, most of whom have lucrative contracts with European clubs, in his office Thursday after they were released from two days of military detention. They were brought to a military base following their first-round elimination from the African Nations Cup.

``I asked that you be taken there so you could reflect a while. You behaved unworthily. You should have avoided us the shame,″ Guei told the Fraternite Matin newspaper.

``Next time you will stay there for military service. You will be sent to the barracks until a sense of civic pride gets into your heads.″

Guei said the country had sacrificed in giving the Elephants, as the team is called, daily pay and expenses.

There was no immediate response from the players, who were 1-1-1 in the first round of the tournament _ tying Togo 1-1, losing to Cameroon 3-0 and beating Ghana 2-0. All four teams in Group A finished with the same record, and Ivory Coast was eliminated on goal differential.

The team’s next big games will be a home-and-home series against Rwanda in the first round of African qualifying for the 2002 World Cup. Ivory Coast was eliminated by Congo in the first round of qualifying for the 1998 World Cup.

Throughout the detention, government officials said the players were being held for ``protection″ from irate fans _ though there were no reported protests or threats.

The detention drew concern from European teams and FIFA, soccer’s governing body.

Shortly after seizing power in December, the military that now rules Ivory Coast gave a similar explanation for detaining those considered close to the previous government.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter wrote the president of the Ivory Coast Football Association, Ousseynou Dieng, and asked him to intervene.

``Detaining a team because it failed to qualify for the next round of a football competition is a blatant violation of the autonomy of the football association as well as of the fair-play principle,″ Blatter said.

The Ivory Coast coup, the first in the west African nation’s history, came amid a decline in the country’s economy brought on by falling world prices for cocoa, its major export crop.

Guei has said he will hold elections for restoring civilian rule by the end of October. He has refused to say whether he will run for president.

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