Why the Ivory Coast's 'Elephants' deserve the trophy, but Algeria won't let them
It is a small West African country that only a fingernail would trace in the map. Ivorians are French speakers and therefore their ties with their former colonialists, France, remain robust just like other West African countries like Senegal.
Apart from the political turmoil that has gripped this nation courtesy of a tussle between the former leader Laurent Gbagbo and his rival Allassane Quatara, Ivorians are known for their love of football. Music lovers have a ringtone "Gauo' in their minds, a song that was sung decades ago by an Ivorian artist.
Without talking much on the sidelines of the main issue, the 2015 AFCON games are here and once again Ivory Coast has made it to the competition that has brought both honours for them and anguish based on their performances versus expectations.
Healing of the nation
Sports are important especially soccer. As a soccer fan, there are many things that can happen to you. You can benefit and lose at the same time. Your team can win as you lose your teeth in a physical fight, just in case you rubbed shoulders with intolerant opponent. But looking at the positives, one can get a free beer just because of striking friendships as a result of supporting the same team.
People have gained from soccer fanaticism including getting newer and lucrative jobs. But just how did Ivory Coast benefit from soccer as a nation? To what modicum did this sport work greater magics that today I would say that they deserve to lift the trophy?
Here is the thing. Ivorians had been experiencing ethnic wars as rebel troops fought the then government troops under Gbagbo's regime. So fiercely it was that the country was divided along political and ethnic affiliations. By mere coincidence, the very year, 2006 was the AFCON year.
After many years of attempts, the 'Elephants' qualified for the tournament to make a historic participation in the tournament. Didier Drogba, chelsea fc striker and the then national captain came together with his teammates and talked to the bleeding, gloomy and divided nation. This team was determined to use their status as an example. It was a team comprising players from different ethnic groupings joined for a course- a course in this case was to represent their country.
This call for unity behind an upcoming strong team yielded fruits as the violence was replaced by dialogue and national reconciliation. As reported by the UK's Daily Telegraph, Drogba said: "Seeing both leaders side by side for the national anthems was very special," and he added, "I felt then that that the Ivory Coast was born again." He did this after a spirited effort in the dressing room, going down on his knees with his teammates and begging the nation to embrace peace. Even if this team failed to make it to the final and lift the trophy, there was a historic event that was achieved.
Didier Drogba being awarded the Afrcan Player of the Year Award in 2007: Photo sourced from Daily Telegraph.
The pool of talents
It is without a doubt that West African countries are well represented in the European leagues. But on the same note, Ivory Coast is a powerhouse of talents just like Algeria, Nigeria among other countries.
After the retirement of Didier Drogba, who has since been sidelined because of age, Ivory Coast has a pool of mushrooming talents capable of seeing off any fierce competition. That they stumbled on the first match by registering a draw against the stubborn Guinea is defensible because this is soccer and it can go either way.
Seydou Doumbia- This is a young striker playing in the Turkish league with Olympiacos. He is someone who has pace and can dribble successfully to score a solo effort. This is a player who can play within limited space and therefore unlocking compact defenses can be a problem well solved. He has already opened up his goal account.
Wilfred Bony- Just as Didier Drogba hang his boots from the international football, Wilfred Bony matured into one of the respected English league players. Having signed for Manchester City before traveling for the 2015 AFCONS, Bony is currently the leading premier league scorer when judging from one this season to the past one. He is versatile, strong in the air, and has good physique to stay on his feet with the ball. Lest I forget! Bony has registered many goals scored by headers.
Yaya Toure'- He is the player that perhaps Barcelona made the worst mistake in the club history for selling. He three times African player of the year is the greatest English premier league holding midfielder. His height is a big boost for him because he can effectively protect the back four in the midfield. His pace is very impressive.
For Yaya Toure, premier league fans are used to quite flowery comments from the commentators immediately after scoring 'crazy' goals normally behind the box. You will hear words like "that was unheard of, superb Toure, he is just getting better and better'.
Gervinho- This is a player full of pace but maybe a victim of memory lapse. He can create problems for the defenses and make up for the game with penalties and other fouls. So he may be beneficial on assumption that he resumes after the suspension.
Max Gradel, Kalou and others-There are other good players like the young Gradel and former Chelsea and Lille forward Salomon Kalou who may prove key in creating chances and making the team even stronger.
The twist and the challengers
Ivory Coast tried to win the continental trophy. 2006 marked one of their best stabs but they were eliminated by Egypt in the advanced stages. A couple of years ago, they lost to Zambia in the penalty shoot outs despite the hyped anticipation that the trophy would be their for the taking.
This time round, there are a few challengers though. With Nigeria out of the competition, Gabon and Algeria are the fierce contingents that the Ivorians may have to battle against. Algeria-known as the Desert Warriaors-also have rich history in the tournament. Besides, they were the first African team to reach the quarter finals of the world cup. Ivory Coast deserve to win for the sake of their nation, to justify their talents and win it for their retired hero-Didier Drogba Tebiley.