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.
Scholarships Up For Grabs For 10 Winners At MTN Champs
The grand finale of the MTN Champs will commence from today and end on Sunday at the Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja where 10 winners will bag scholarship and financial benefits.
MTN CHAMPS is a program in Nigeria that aims to unearth and foster athletics talent across the country.
It is modeled after the Jamaican High school CHAMPS and is poised to become the primary platform for identifying and nurturing promising athletes who could go on to represent Nigeria in prestigious international competitions such as the Olympics and World Championships.
Before the finals in Abuja, the track and field event was held in three different regions namely: Uyo, Benin and Ibadan where over 7,000 athletes have competed and 42 finalists emerged.
Speaking at the MTN Champs Press Conference held on Wednesday in Abuja, the General Secretary of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria, Rita Mosindi appealed for the introduction of anti-doping lectures for the young athletes.
“ I want to appeal for the introduction of anti-doping lectures for the kids to educate them on the side effects of taking dope substances.
“These are raw talents that we can manage and nurture them to stardom.
“My advice is to do seminars concerning this just as we have started doing as a federation to reduce doping cases in Nigeria.”
Founder and CEO of Making of Champions (MoC), Bambo Akanni, who is the brain behind the MTN Champs revealed that 10 young athletes from the championship will get special scholarship in the USA and Jamaica.
“MTN Champs involving Secondary School Championship is to discover future Olympians for the country, building youth to excel in sports and academics. This is in line with MTN history of supporting local athletes for global aspirations.
NBPL Final Four: Winning Tournament Excites Rivers Hoopers Player
Rivers Hoopers of Port Harcourt player Effiong Abel has expressed joy for winning the just concluded Nigeria Basketball Premier (NBPL) League Final Four in Port Harcourt.
According to him, the game was not an easy one, adding that they were going through a hard training before the competition.
Effiong disclosed his excitement last Saturday in an exclusive interview with Tidesports shortly after Rivers Hoopers defeated Nigeria Customs basketball team 77-57 in the final game of the four of the NBPL in Port Harcourt.
He stated that it was a team work that saw them through, adding that he was very happy winning the tournament in the front of his fans.
“ I feel very excited today for winning the Nigeria Basketball Premier League Final Four in Port Harcourt.
“ It was not an easy one because of the type of training we were undergoing to ensure we get victory in the tournament.
“I give kudos to my teammates and the coaching crew, they were awesome.
“ Also kudos to the fans, they came out in numbers to support us” Effiong said.
Effiong personally took charge at some point of the game delivering three pointers which eventually created a lee way for a sumptuous finale.
By: Kiadum Edookor
MOC Makes Appeal Over Age Cheats
Organisers of the ongoing school athletics competition, MTN Champs, Making of Champions (MoC), have appealed to all athletes who have participated in the three legs of the championship, as well as their schools, parents, coaches and everyone connected to them to support the body in its efforts to eradicate the systemic age cheating in Nigeria’s athletics by committing to use their real ages at the Abuja grand final and in future.
“MTN has provided a historic opportunity for Nigeria to finally tackle the pressures that our athletes have long faced to cut their ages,” MoC said in a statement made available to news men.
“Never in our nation’s history has there been a nationwide series of championships that has provided three age groups cutting across ages 11 to 19, to give everyone possible opportunity to compete fairly in their own age groups, and we have even relaxed the junior age group from U-20 to U-23.
The grand finale will hold in Abuja from December 1 to 3.
The MoC statement added: “Despite the fact that appropriate age groups have been provided for everyone, we have seen widespread age discrepancies across all three age categories – Cadet (U-14) and Youth (U-17) categories, which are strictly for secondary schools only and juniors (U-20), which is open to all other teenagers.
“For example, we have seen a systematic pattern of an unusually high number of SS2 and SS3 students claiming to be 13 and 14 years old respectively. We have seen athletes who were 14 in 2021 claiming to still be 14 now, 18-year-olds who have finished secondary school already claiming to be 13 so that they can run against the cadets, and we have seen many athletes competing for schools they are not part of and in the wrong age categories as well.
“One of such schools, which was biggest offender in this area, is currently in the process of being disqualified, which will be announced shortly.”
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