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15 of 060 Christian Nade 38 ;Gary Glen 92 SC A

Out of Africa, into the derby fire

Stewart Fisher
HIBERNIAN: Edinburgh showdown has a lot riding on it for Sol Bamba as Hibs look to lift the Scottish Cup, writes Stewart Fisher.

PASSIONS HAVE been known to run high in the Edinburgh derby, but for sheer hysteria in the stands nothing quite matches international football on the African continent. Never, for instance, has an animal been sacrificed as a good luck charm before kick-off, nor has a particularly poor performance from either side been greeted by members of the police force waving guns around in the dressing room.

Both of the above were among the cautionary tales related to Sol Bamba by his father, Bakary, when he decided to pledge his international allegiance to the Ivory Coast, the nation of his parents' birth. It is not all bad news, however. Considering he can count on the likes of Didier Drogba, and Kolo and Yaya Toure as his international team-mates, and the Ivory Coast have a decent claim to be the strongest side from the continent in which the World Cup finals will be held, few Scottish-based players have more chance than Bamba of going the distance in 2010. Not least because the man who has integrated him into the Ivory Coast set-up in recent months is Vahid Halihodzic, the Bosnian coach who gave him his debut at Paris Saint-German.

My dad told me to think about it carefully because it's not just about football," Bamba said. "If we lose an international game it has a real effect on the people of the Ivory Coast. There is trouble on the continent because of war and when the people come to watch they games the want forget all their problems.

"Sometimes when we lose a game there can be very big trouble," he added. "My dad told me I would need to think about my safety if I made this decision. There have been a few incidents in the past. I wasn't in the first team at this time but I heard the story that one time the police came in to see us waving their guns and asking us why we did not win the game. It's scary.

"I've had a few experiences with witchcraft too," he added. "I went to play an under-21 game against Ghana and there was blood on the seats in the dressing room. They had sacrificed an animal in there - it was crazy! But I'm happy with my decision because we have a very good team. The trouble is that some people then think we are the best team in the world."

After a friendly against as-yet unnamed opponents in February, probably in the Ivory Coast's new home base of Europe, first up is making it beyond a qualifying group which includes Malawi, Guinea, and Burkina Faso. "Everyone says we are favourites to qualify but we have to stay focused because the fans demand that we win," Bamba said. "We all want to qualify for this tournament because the World Cup will be played in Africa for the first time but we have to be careful."

Bamba has no shortage of challenges to confront on the domestic front either. This afternoon's second instalment of the Edinburgh derby double-header for starters, and the latest attempt to shed Hibs' historical baggage of 107 years without a Scottish Cup win.

Two years ago, Bamba played a role in preserving that unfortunate statistic, when he featured for the Dunfermline side which knocked Hibs out in a Hampden semi-final en route to their single-goal defeat to Celtic.

"The fans have spoken to me about our poor Scottish Cup record - it's one of the first things you learn when you sign for this club," Bamba said. "But I have quite a good relationship with this competition. I made it to the final in 2007 and, although we lost, I really enjoyed the occasion. It was my good friend Jean-Joel Perrier-Doumbe who got the goal. I'm still angry about that."

Hibs have striking options which Hearts cannot match - even if they were unable to register a single goal in this fixture last week - and Bamba knows Hibs will be halfway there if they can stop Christian Nade, who he first encountered playing for Troyes. It is not just Edinburgh bragging rights which will be at stake this afternoon. It is also which of Bamba and Nade will have to stump up for their next dinner.

"We are friends and sometimes we go out for dinner or just speak on the phone," Bamba said. "It's never easy to play against him but I know there are times during the games that I will have to pick him up. We are due to go out for dinner again soon but he has insisted that we wait until after these two matches are finished. I don't know who will pay but it's a good idea that the loser should pay!"

It is an Edinburgh derby in the Scottish Cup. The loser will pay all right.

Hibernian v Hearts, today, Sky Sports 2, 12.15pm.

Taken from the Sunday Herald

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