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.
CAFCC: Rivers United Defeats Al Masry 2-1 In Aba
Rivers United FC of Port Harcourt, yesterday at the Enyimba International Stadium, Aba, saw off Al Masry of Egypt 2-1 in the first leg of the CAF Confederation Cup, (CAFCC) The pride of Rivers got the early lead in the 24 minutes of the first half by Uche Onwuasonaya while the Egyptian, equalised three minutes after .
In the 35th minutes, Ishaq Kayode restored United to the lead which was assisted by Malachi Ohawume.
Speaking with Tidesports shortly after the game, the Sole administrator of Rivers United FC, Barrister Christopher Green, described the result as not what they expected.
According to him, they expected the pride of Rivers to have scored more than the two goals but well, they still need to fight back in the second leg.
“ Not what we expected.Well it was a highling contested game.
But we need to fight back in the return leg,” Green said.
Green who is also the Special Adviser to the Rivers State Governor on Real Madrid Football Academy further explained that, the pride of Rivers will have to fight back to get the ticket to qualify for the group stage of the tournament.
Why Budweiser Brought Terry, Carlos To Nigeria – Adedeji
Marketing Director, International Breweries Plc., Tolulope Adedeji, in this interview with newsmen talks about Nigerians’ passion for football and the global impacts of Budweiser Game of Kings, among other sundry issues
Budweiser, the official beer sponsor of the Premier League and Spanish La Liga, understands the love for football by all Nigerians. Football is one of Nigerian’s strongest passions. The love for football goes beyond watching matches to the banter that connects consumers online and offline.
According to Adedeji, every fan believes they know what’s best for their team and always have something to say about managers and coaches’ decisions. The Budweiser Game of Kings aimed to create a unique experience for consumers.
She noted that consumers get to have a say on what happens on the pitch by being the team managers of Kings FC captained by John Terry and Kings FC, captained by Roberto Carlos. And for the first time, both international players played alongside Nigerian Professional Football League players.
As the official beer of the Premier League and Spanish La Liga, the aim was to bring two international football greats from the Premier League and La Liga. And after months of research among football fans in Nigeria, we identified John Terry and Roberto Carlos as two international players who have impacted the Nigerian players and fans over the years and they both formed the perfect duo for the campaign.
She explained that the idea by Budweiser was to use the opportunity to put the Nigerian professional league under the spotlight. We decided to partner with the Nigerian Professional League. Allow our very own professional league players to play alongside the international legends on the same pitch.
She said that the campaign was successful beyond our expectations. Budweiser gained massive media attention and every football lover was excited to be a part of the campaign. Several fans were at the stadium and millions watched the match from their homes on television. The match was broadcast across NTA Network, STV Network and SuperSport Channels on GoTV and DStv. Others also watched online on YouTube and other Budweiser social media platforms.
Budweiser created a first of its kind experience for the Nigerian professional league players and fans with a series of events that they will live to remember for a long time.
“As the official beer of the FIFA World Cup, Premier League and Spanish La Liga, Budweiser’s commitment to creating unique football experiences in Nigeria remains intact and, we are planning something even bigger for the World Cup year in 2022.
“Consumers interested in becoming managers were required to look under the crown cork of Budweiser for the unique code that gives them a chance to participate in the draw to become managers. Successful consumers selected from the draws received invites to audition for the manager position,” she said.
”The audition panel consisted of officials from the National Professional League organising committee. The audition panel, therefore, conducted the interviews to determine the managers.
“Budweiser is committed to consistently bringing consumers new and exciting experiences. To stay in touch, I will suggest you follow our social media pages @BudweiserNigeria.
“Football is one of the platforms that unite the world, and it is a strong passion point of Nigerian consumers. Budweiser is therefore committed to bringing consumers elevated experiences and joy.” She concluded.
Firm Honours Jonathan With Wrestling Competition, Other Sports
Renew Empire Group of Companies based in Republic of Turkey and Bayelsa State, in Nigeria, says it would commemorate former President Goodluck Jonathan’s birthday with a wrestling competition, other sports and cultural displays annually.
Speaking with newsmen in Otuoke, home town of the former president, at the weekend, Managing Director/CEO of the company, Engineer Gospel Obolo identified sports as having the capacity to reduce crime and criminality in the society.
According to him, wrestling is the number one sports in Ijaw-land, adding that no meaningfully engaged youth would take to crime.
“We’ve been planning this event for almost a year now. We decided to take a date which would coincide with the celebration of our icon, former president’s birthday so as to use these wrestling and the other sporting and cultural activities to commemorate his birthday by drawing the attention of the world.
This is the maiden edition,but we intent to carry out this programme annually.With sports,we can create jobs for our teeming youth and other unemployed citizens of this country,” Engr. Obolo said.
The Tidesports reports that the maiden edition of the event which was tagged, ‘Ibe Onin’ is expected to last for 17 days and has since begun with musical performance by notable artists and mock traditional wrestling trials.
In the same vein,the Paramount ruler of Otuoke, His Royal Highness, Ariwareni Paul(Oke xi) has also described the idea behind the event as unique.
The monarch who spoke through the second deputy paramount ruler of the community, HRH Mirobebh Dogood Akpufu decried the spate of youth restiveness in the area, saying that an event of this magnitude would not only curb youth restiveness, but can also create jobs for youths.
He commended the organisers for the feat, just as he noted that Bayelsa was blessed with abundant talents and tourism potentials waiting to be harnessed for the economic advantage.
By: Ariwera Ibibo-Howells, Yenagoa
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