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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 May, 2003, 15:03 GMT 16:03 UK
Beveren's Ivorian legion
By James Copnall
BBC Sport

Toure and Eendracht Aalst's Damir Stojak battle for the ball
Toure has made a name at Beveren

It's official - the best Ivorian clubside plays in Belgium.

Forget Asec Abidjan or Africa Sports, first division Beveren leads the way.

A small Belgian club featuring no less than 11 Ivorian footballers, it is owned by Jean-Marc Guillou.

Guillou is the French coach whose academy in Abidjan provided Asec with the prodigies that made the club glow so brightly in the late 1990's.

After a dispute with Asec's management, Guillou bought into Beveren, with the express intention of bringing his Ivorian jewels to Belgium.

"Unlike many other leagues, you are allowed as many foreign players as you want in Belgium," said Guillou's long-time assistant Remy Laguesse.

Five Ivorians were signed for the 2001-2 season, but early results were poor.

One of the early recruits, Venance 'Zezeto' Zeze, found the early going very tough.

"It was really difficult," Zezeto told BBC Sport.

"Every footballer has ups and downs, but you can't doubt your ability.

"All the same, you ask yourself: what is going wrong? And of course, people said bad things about us."

Beveren is located in the northern, Flemish-speaking part of Belgium, where a section of the population have extremely strong views on race.

Many club supporters were not prepared to welcome so many Africans with open arms.

"When I told the supporters I would bring Ivorians in and we would do much better, no one believed me," Guillou told BBC Sport.

Gilles Yapi Yapo, Zezeto and Yaya Toure, younger brother of Arsenal's Kolo, have become big stars in the Belgian league.

Guillou believes that the more Ivorians he brings in, the better things will be for the club.

"I noticed this season that when our team played with seven or eight Ivorians, our two English players and one or two Belgians, we had one of the best three teams in the country," said Guillou.

"But when, in contrast, we didn't have this set-up, because of national team call-ups or injuries, we were one of the worst teams."

Seduced by the attractive football played by Beveren's African legion, the fans now wave Ivorian flags at the club ground - a trend that could remain in fashion for a few more years to come.

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