Football: Hibs have a sol purpose

SOL BAMBA today begged his Hibs team-mates to make sure his European dream is still alive when he returns to action on the final day of the SPL season.

The Ivory Coast defender will have to sit out the next three league matches, having gone through the disciplinary points total because of a booking picked up in the SPL game against Celtic a fortnight ago.

That means he has just one game left in green and white before the end of the campaign – and before the start of the World Cup in South Africa – against Dundee United on the final day of the league campaign.

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In the meantime, the Easter Road side take on Rangers on Sunday before playing host to Hearts tomorrow week and then travelling to Fir Park for a televised clash with Motherwell the following Wednesday night.

The outcome of those games will decide whether Hibs, Motherwell or Hearts clinch fourth spot in the table, and a place in next season's Europa League qualifiers.

With so much at stake, Bamba admitted he's gutted to be missing out and said: "It's a big disappointment for me to be missing these three games. I know that it was stupid to throw the ball away but obviously I didn't know that if I got another yellow card that I would be suspended.

"They are the rules, though, and I have to get on with it. I am going to stay here and work hard in training with the rest of the boys, I have got to keep myself fit because I will be back for the final game of the season.

"I also want to be here to support the rest of the team because we have got three very important matches coming up and we need to take as many points from each of them as possible."

While Bamba won't be playing over the next few weeks, he won't be taking the chance to rest up in anticipation of South Africa, and instead will remain in Edinburgh and continue to train and prepare with his team-mates as normal.

"I also need to train every single day in preparation for the World Cup so I don't have any plans to go home to visit family, or anything like that. I will just stay here and prepare as I normally would for a game.

"I think that the remaining games are all like cup finals for us, we need to enjoy them as much as possible.

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"The top six this season is full of good teams and we need to make sure that we go into the remaining games well prepared and with the right attitude.

"I will be sitting in the stands cheering the team on – obviously I wanted to do more, but this is the situation that I am in.

"It is difficult to try to help the team when you are not on the pitch but I will do as much as I can to encourage them.

"I think that, after the start to the season that we had, it would be a big disappointment if we didn't finish in one of the places for Europe.

"All of the boys feels the same, we all know what we have got to do and we are all going to try to make sure that we do the job.

"I think that we deserve that. I know that we have been up and down, especially in the last few weeks, but I think that every team goes through that at some stage.

"We didn't manage to keep third place but if we can finish in fourth then it will still be good – any place as long as we are playing European football next season."

Bamba's suspension, combined with injury worries over Chris Hogg and several other key players, will force John Hughes to shuffle his pack for the game against Rangers.

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However, Bamba, who played alongside young Paul Hanlon in the centre of defence against Celtic last weekend, is confident his manager has a number of options in that area of the park to replace him.

"We have got a good squad," Bamba said, "with good young players and when someone is out with injury or suspension, we have got players who can come in to replace them.

"I am not worried about that, I am behind the boys all the way, whoever plays, and hopefully we can get some good results between now and the end of the season.

"European football is what we want and I think that we have got a good chance. We will work hard to get there no matter who the manager picks."

While Bamba's priorities lie with Hibs for the next month, he admits he can't wait for the Ivory Coast's World Cup campaign which gets underway with a Group G fixture against Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal on 15 June.

The former Dunfermline player admits his country didn' t do themselves justice in the Africa Cup of Nations in January – despite being one of the favourites to lift the trophy they were knocked out at the quarter-final stages by Algeria – and says that they must redeem themselves in this tournament.

Bamba, who will line up alongside the likes of Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure in South Africa, said: "The World Cup is coming around so quickly, we're already in April and almost into May so I am very much looking forward to it.

"There is still a lot of football to be played here for now though and when those games are out of the way then I can start to think about other things.

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"I am just going to have one game left to play before the end of the season and then I will have one week's rest, which will be good.

"After that we have got a week-long training camp in Paris and then out to Switzerland, although that has still to be confirmed.

"We need to finish strongly in the league to make sure we will be playing in Europe next season. When we have done that and only when we have done that can I concentrate on Ivory Coast."

Since their disappointing exit from the Africa Cup of Nations, former England and Manchester City manager Sven Goran Eriksson has replaced Vahid Halilhodzic as Ivory Coast manager.

Bamba is looking forward to linking up with the Swede and is hoping his appointment will signal a return to form for The Elephants.

The Ivory Coast players, having already played in their domestic leagues and the Africa Cup of Nations over the course of the season, will have amassed a marathon number of games in the last year but Bamba doesn't expect that to affect them and he continued: "Everyone is just looking forward to it and to meeting the new manager.

"Yes, I think we will all have played a lot of games but if anyone is tired then I am sure that will go away when the first ball is kicked at the World Cup.

"We have got to do well because we had a big disappointment in the Africa Cup of Nations, everyone expected us to do well in the tournament.

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"It is a tough group, we know that, but we have got nothing to lose really. After our bad performance in the Cup of Nations everyone criticised us and we want to prove to them that we are better than that.

"I have played a lot of games already this season, I have had the league and cup games for Hibs, the Africa Cup of Nations and now the World Cup as well.

"I must have played at least 50 games so far and hopefully I will have a few more to go in South Africa. It is a great achievement to be involved in something like this for your country so the amount of games is not important.

"We all need to be ready for it mentally and physically and we know that it is not going to be easy, but it is something that we will hopefully enjoy and always remember."