The great Brazilian Pelé famously predicted that an African nation would win the World Cup before the year 2000. Now in 2014, we are still awaiting an African champion, with Ghana’s quarter-final in South Africa four years ago the best attempt so far.
Brazil’s 2014 World Cup involves five African nations all hoping to belatedly fulfil Pelé’s prophecy, with Cote d'Ivoire perhaps best placed to do so.
Les Elephants will enter their third World Cup finals as the highest ranked side in Africa and twenty first in the overall FIFA World Rankings, sandwiched between Croatia and Scotland.
Their aim, you would expect, will be to reach the knockout stage of the competition for the first time in their history, with any further progress considered a huge bonus.
As reward for collecting fourteen points from an available eighteen in an immensely successful qualifying campaign, Ivory Coast are grouped alongside Colombia, Greece and Japan. By contrast to their draw in South Africa with Brazil, Portugal and North Korea, dubbed the Group of Death, they should feel hopeful of achieving their humble objective.
Their main strength will be their team spirit, their camaraderie, as ex-Chelsea forward Salomon Kalou explained in a recent BBC interview, "I joined the academy [Asec Mimosas in the Ivorian city of Abidjan] in 1997 and Yaya [Touré] was already there and Kolo [Touré], too. We've had at least 17 years of playing together.”
Thus, the core of their side has known each other for more than half their lives.
As the Netherlands have proved over the years - without team spirit, even if you have the very best players, you are doomed to failure. This togetherness could give Ivory Coast that added magic needed to compete.
As extra impetus, force-of-nature and team captain Didier Drogba announced his intention to retire from international football after the tournament.
If the possibility exists, no matter how vague, of lifting the World Cup in his last international game, mirroring his Champion’s League success at Chelsea, you can count on the big-man doing his very best to pull them together over the line.
At club level, a number of Ivorians experienced impressive seasons. Yaya Touré won the Premier League for the second time, while brother Kolo finished with Liverpool in second place.
The former Chelsea man scored 16 league goals for Lille in France, with the ex-Arsenal forward managing 9 goals and 10 assists with Italian side AC Roma.
There’s also a talented new man around - Toulouse’s right back Serge Aurier. Strongly linked with a summer move to Arsenal, the 21 year old was one of European football’s star full backs last season and will look to carry his form onto the summer spectacle.
The Ivorian players know this might be their best and last chance to win after many years playing together, even if the bookies don’t believe it.
At around 125/1 to lift the trophy, a small flurry in support of Drogba’s lads is surely worth the risk. For certain, Ivory Coast will be an entertaining force in Brazil, and you never know – Pelé’s hope for an African champion might materialise.
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