Twice the titanic figure of Didier Drogba has been a successful penalty kick away from guiding Ivory Coast to Africa Cup of Nations glory.
In 2006, Egypt beat the Ivorians on penalty kicks in a tense final. Drogba’s effort during that shootout was saved by Essam El-Hadary in the Egyptian goal. Six years later, the former Chelsea powerhouse had the opportunity to atone for his past blunder. But regret was to knock at his door again – Drogba ballooned his 70th minute spot kick over the bar before the Zambia completed the most unlikely of victories.
As such, this year’s tournament is likely the last chance for Didier Drogba, 34, to walk away from football with something tangible to remember his international career by. Indeed despite three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, a Champions League winners’ medal and two African Footballer of the Year awards, the absence of an international honour would cast a regretful shadow over his illustrious career.
And this is not his last chance alone. The last decade promised much for this golden generation of Ivorian footballers – which also includes Yaya Toure and Salomon Kalou, among others – but has failed to deliver on its potential. While the failure to progress from World Cup groups can be blamed on unkind draws, continental shortcomings are harder to gloss over.
Previous golden generations of national teams have flattered to deceive. The most striking example is that of the England side of the 2000s. The Elephants are perilously close to becoming Africa’s equivalent of the Three Lions.
Kolo Toure is 31, Didier Zokora is 32 and members of that golden generation are generally aging. While talent such as Lacina Traore, Cheick Tiote and Wilfried Bony will harbour hopes of impressing in the future, to see the previous intake of Ivorians fail to leave a mark on world football would leave a bitter taste in the mouth of many people – and none more so than Drogba.
Transfer rumours abound that Drogba, currently playing out his career in China with Shanghai Shenhua, could return to Europe this month – possibly to Serie A champions Juventus. The links may be tenuous or they may not, but the very fact that Drogba is still touted as a solution to the attacking problems of top teams shows that he still a world class striker.
The problem for Ivory Coast is that, like in their two World Cup campaigns, they again find themselves in a difficult group at this year’s tournament in South Africa. Emmanuel Adebayor’s Togo, 2004 Nations Cup winners Tunisia and the ever-dangerous Algeria will be the teams eager to take a scalp and ensure Drogba’s international career ends in disappointment.
Regardless, you can be sure that Didier Drogba will expend every ounce of energy on South African pitches over the next month as Ivory Coast attempt to live up to their tag as favourites.
It may well come down to penalties again at some point but we should not worry about Drogba’s appetite to step into the limelight for a third time. Any doubts from the penalty spot that may have lingered were expelled last May when he immortalised himself in dramatic style on that famous night in Munich.
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