Lifestyle & Belief

Africa's soccer promise, the Ivory Coast World Cup team, is depending on Drogba


Ivory Coast World Cup Team Statistics: Group A

Status: Advance to round 2

World Ranking: 27

Wold Cup 2010 Results:  1-1-1

Total goals scored: 4

Total goals scored against: 4

Ivory Coast World Cup Schedule: June 15 - Portugal (0-0 draw); June 20 - Brazil (1-3 loss); June 25 - North Korea (3-0 win)

Ivory Coast World Cup Soccer 2010

After Ivory Coast qualified for the 2006 World Cup, its first appearance on soccer’s biggest stage, team superstar Didier Drogba made an impassioned plea for combatants on both sides of his nation’s five-year civil war to lay down their arms. A ceasefire ensued and ultimately an uneasy peace. The soccer team — “The Elephants” — remains the nation's most powerful unifying force.

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All six African nations headed for the 2010 World Cup have their own hopes and dreams. But beyond that, all hope that an African team will flourish in South Africa, creating some rare positive spin for the beleaguered continent. The team from Ivory Coast is regarded as the most talented with the best shot at a historic World Cup run.

Cup success could shine a favorable light on a country once regarded as a jewel of West Africa. While the civil war has stopped, political unrest is a continual threat to the peace. More attention from the world — some desperately needed investment — is viewed as the vital next step toward stabilizing the country. That’s quite a lot to ask a soccer team to deliver.

Ivory Coast World Cup History: In its first World Cup four years ago, Ivory Coast didn’t advance after a brutal draw that pitted it against Argentina, Netherlands, Serbia and Montenegro.

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Ivory Coast World Cup Conventional Wisdom: Once again Ivory Coast got unlucky in the draw and landed in a group with Brazil and Portugal, two of the three top-ranked teams in the world. And fans of “The Elephants” are a little less optimistic since the team crashed out as favorite in the quarterfinals of the 2010 African Nations Cup.

Ivory Coast World Cup Team Coach: Sven-Goran Eriksson

The first foreign coach ever to take the helm of the English national team, Eriksson’s long reign saw England ousted in the quarterfinals of three major tournaments — the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and the 2004 Euros.

One can spend many a pub hour debating whether his tenure was a failure. There is no debate that what followed — one season with Manchester City and then six months with the Mexican national team — were unmitigated disasters. Eriksson only took over Ivory Coast in late March, following the ANC flop, and it will be difficult for him to effect much change.

Ivory Coast World Cup Team Strength: Ivory Coast boasts a relentless attack led by African Player of the Year Drogba; the team netted 19 goals while going undefeated in a dozen qualification games.

Ivory Coast World Cup Team Weakness: The team surrenders too many goals. It doesn’t lack talent on defense, but the speedy back line seems preoccupied with going forward to support the attack and gets burned too often on the counter-attack.

Ivory Coast World Cup Key Player: Didier Drogba

At 32, Drogba had an extraordinary season for Premier League champ Chelsea, leading the league with 29 goals in 32 games. He is tall and powerfully built, an immovable object when he takes up a position in front of the net.

On top of his natural gifts, he has an uncanny ability to control balls anywhere in his vicinity as well as both an unerring, rocket shot and a deft, soft touch. Revered at home not only for his talent, but for his statesmanship, Drogba is a little less statesman-like on the field. He was suspended for a threatening harangue against a referee following a controversial Champions League loss in 2009. And like many great scorers, he has a huge ego and does not always appear to put team first.

Some fans fret that — after a down-to-the-wire, Premier League season, the Champions League fray and the African Nations Cup — Drogba, who takes a beating but gives as good as he gets, may not have much left to give his World Cup team.