When Ivory Coast crashed out of the 2006 World Cup at the earliest possible stage, coach Henri Michel had but one lament – ‘the only thing we lack is experience’.
Placed in a daunting group with Argentina, Holland and Serbia & Montenegro, the Ivorians played exciting football while holding their own but their rawness cost them dearly.
In every game in Germany, the Elephants trailed 2-0 before half-time – and ended up losing 2-1 twice, but, more impressively, winning one.
The 3-2 defeat of Serbia & Montenegro in Munich was memorable, courageous and, surprisingly, the first time since 1982 that a World Cup side trailing by two goals had won.
Having followed the Ivorians and their orange-clad fans across Germany one remembered thinking, upon their exit, how vital it was that arguably Africa’s best side at the finals returned in 2010.
The likes of Didier Drogba, Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue now have that priceless experience and, crucially, roughly two-thirds of the squad that were in Germany will be in South Africa.
“With [our 2006] experience, it will be possible to do much better,” says Yaya Toure, an Olympiakos player in 2006 but now a finely-settled cog for all-conquering Barcelona.
“Perhaps we can make the quarter-finals, and then semi-finals – this is something we can achieve,” added Kolo’s younger brother.
The Elephants are packing their trunks for South Africa following the 1-1 draw in Malawi in the last qualifier, with captain and top scorer Drogba fittingly grabbing the decisive goal (his fifth of the campaign).
Yet after winning their opening four Group E matches, beating Malawi, Guinea and main rivals Burkina Faso home and away, qualification had never been in doubt.
Especially since Valil Halilhodzic’s side has stayed unbeaten in 15 matches since losing in Japan in May 2008, the very month the Bosnian coach took charge.
And though three of the continent’s six places at the World Cup are still undecided, many are tipping the Elephants to find fruitful grazing on African soil next year.
“To make it to the final will not be easy because there are great teams like Brazil and Germany who have won the World Cup for many years,” says Drogba, the team’s figurehead.
“But my team-mates and I want to make history and change the way the world sees African football. I hope we’ll be the team that is going to go to the final and win the competition.”
Even on home turf, this is a major ask for any African nation but one senses the Elephants will be ready for all-comers, tricky group or not, in South Africa.
For these challengers have a quality few of their continental rivals possess: strength in nearly every position.
Up front, Drogba and Salomon Kalou lead the line, with Boubacar Sanogo (St Etienne), Sekou Cisse (Feyenoord) waiting in the wings – as must Lille’s emerging 22-year-old playmaker Gervinho.
Midfield finds Seville’s Didier Zokora, magnificent in Germany, holding alongside Yaya Toure with tiny Marseille man Bakary Kone who also shone in 2006, Abdul-Kader Keita (Galatasaray) and Romaric (Seville) all hoping for first pick on the flanks.
In defence, Kolo Toure’s regular partner Abdoulaye Meite has recently been replaced by Olympic captain Sol Bamba, with Arthur ‘Thunder Thighs’ Boka, who won the 2007 Bundesliga title with Stuttgart, and Arsenal’s Eboue out wide.
All looking good so far but as any Ivorian will tell you, the rampaging Elephants do have an Achilles heel – their goalkeeper.
Unlike most of his colleagues, who are largely based in England, Spain and France, Boubacar Barry plays for lowly Lokeren in Belgium.
As such, he is the source of endless concern but his record this qualifying campaign is largely faultless, with just 6 goals conceded in eleven games.
Barry’s position will come under intense scrutiny during January’s Nations Cup in Angola, which the Elephants will be expected to win by their boisterous army of fans.
And as they charge onward, it must not be forgotten that an invisible force is driving the West Africans.
Namely the memory of the fans who died after trying to watch the players’ qualifier against Malawi’s Flames in a tragically-oversold Felix Houphouet-Boigny stadium.
“We have to go as far as we can in this competition for all the people who died,” said Yaya Toure after the March tragedy in Abidjan.
They’ve been as good as their word so far.
Today’s FM Holds U-20 Soccer Fiesta, Dec
The maiden edition of Today’s FM Under 20 Soccer Fiesta is set to commence first week of next month, at Treasure FM football field in Port Harcourt.
Speaking in a media briefing, last Friday, at the boardroom of the Station, in Port Harcourt, the chairman of the organising committee, Emeka Denar, said the tournament is basically to expose hidden talents within that age bracket.
According to him, the Soccer Fiesta is another way of giving back to the society and, to foster peace and unity in the State.
“This is the sixth year of our existence as a radio station in the State, so this Soccer Fiesta is to give back to the society. We decided to choose U-20, because there are backlog of talented players in that category. So our interest is to give them a platform to show case their talents”, Denar said.
The chairman further explained that the Fiesta would be on knock out basis and 16 teams are expected to participate in the novelty edition.
“The winner of the tournament is to walk away with N300, 000, while second and third positions will go home with N200,000 and N100,000 respectively. Registration has commenced with N10, 000 only”, he stated.
Also, speaking, the Head of News in the station, Victor Ezeama, said the competition is open for sponsorship, saying that the station would sustain the tournament.
On the issue of age cheat, the consultant of the tournament, China Acheru, assured the sponsors that they would try their best to check age cheating.
“We will try our best to check age cheating; even FIFA has not succeeded totally on that. I know some will scale through and some will not,” Acheru said.
Lala Happy To Score First NPFL Goal
Jigawa Golden Stars attacker, Abdullahi Musa Lala, says he’s delighted to score his first Nigeria Professional Football League goal for the Club.
The former Katsina United forward was on target for the Northern side in their 2-1 loss to Wikki Tourists of Bauchi in NPFL opener last Sunday
The young and pacy winger opened the scoring for Jigawa Golden Stars, before Wikki Tourists replied with two quick second half goals to snatched all the three points at the Pantami Stadium in Gombe.
“I am so delighted to score my first Premier League goal in the colour of Jigawa Golden Stars.
“Despite the loss, we gave a very good account of ourselves as a team.
“I wish to dedicate that goal to my teammates and the entire fans of Jigawa Golden Stars FC for giving Wikki Tourists a good fight in front of their fans.
“It has been my target to score in the first match of the league and I thank almighty Allah for given me the privilege to finally register my goal account in the NPFL, he said.
“This is just the first goal, I am very sure more are still coming because I am working hard in order to score in every game I will play.”, he said
Abdullahi Musa Lala recorded four goals and three assists in eight games for the newly promoted side last season.
Usule Eyes NPFL Top Scorer Award
Enyimba forward, Martin Usule, has set his sight on the Enyimba and Nigeria professional football league top scorer award at the end of the season.
Usule was on target for the People’s Elephants in their CAF Confederations Cup first leg victory over TS Galaxy of South Africa in Aba
The former Niger Tornadoes and Katsina United attacker is optimistic that he can kick on from his first goal for the Club and get more.
“I am so excited to have scored my first and second official goals for Enyimba in the CAF Confederation Cup against TS Galaxy of South Africa.
“I want to inform our fans to keep calm and keep praying for us and we won’t disappoint them.
“I don’t really have any number of goals in my mind as target for the season; my major target is to be crowned Enyimba top scorer by the end of the season. He declared.
“I want to score as many goals as possible for Enyimba”, he said.
Usule will however be in Enyimba squad for the clash with his former side Katsina United in the Matchday two of the 2019/2020 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL).
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