Luck, or a lack of it, played a part in Ivory Coast’s disappointing World Cup campaign. But the team hailed as the country’s ‘Golden Generation’ have only themselves to blame, in a campaign which crumbled under the expectations of a continent.
Bad luck placed them, once again, in arguably the toughest group in the tournament. Bad luck gave their star striker Didier Drogba a broken elbow a week before their first game. Bad luck saw them concede a second, killer goal to Brazil which should have been disallowed for handball. Twice. And bad luck forced them to play the group’s weakest team, North Korea, last, once their fate had all but been sealed.
But there were no arguments of misfortune after their first game, a seemingly creditable 0-0 draw against the widely dismissed yet still admired Portuguese team. That match, the Elephants’ first in the South African competition, was the moment that their destiny was truly in their own hands. The stage was set for the ‘Golden Generation,’ including Drogba, Didier Zokora, Emmanuel Eboue, Kolo and Yaya Toure and Salomon Kalou, to seize their moment at football’s biggest tournament.
But the lack of adventure, daring, flair and excitement leaves those stars returning home to their respective clubs, wondering if they will be called upon in four years time, should Ivory Coast qualify once more.
Much of the team’s negative approach is attributed to now former manager Sven Goran Eriksson, whose fondness for organisation and stability over free flowing forward football was well established during spells in charge of England and Mexico. But Zokora, who at 29 years old will not have too many more chances to play at the World Cup, claims that progress has been made.
“I’m really confident because Eriksson changed a lot in the team. The key change is that we’re now playing together as a team,” said the Sevilla midfielder. “Now when we lose the ball, we close down space as we’ve become very disciplined.”
Such a defence is admirable in its pragmatism, but offers little inspiration. Indeed, there were very few reasons to cheer for Elephants fans. Four goals, one a consolation, three against a team whose sole objective was to avoid another seven goal thumping, barely quickened Ivorian heartbeats. Their loyal and majestical support, buoyed by the earnest optimism of an entire continent and a world full of well-wishers, did themselves proud, but on the back of an uninspiring team drifted into the background noise of a tournament which had little time for sentimentality.
The first African World Cup was meant to be an opportunity for the world’s second largest and second most populous continent to show what it could do. As well as the presence of six teams in the competition, African football was meant to pave the way for African people to confound worldwide stereotypes of starving, passive victims and show themselves as they wished to be seen.
It started well. South Africa’s dramatic opening draw with Mexico, the novelty of spectacular stadiums and panoramic views. Broadcasters and reporters fell over themselves to present the country and the continent in new and exciting ways.
Soon, however, the cracks in the fairytale grew; from the failure of Nigeria, Algeria, Cameroon and Ivory Coast and the too-little-too-late drama of South Africa; to the cruel and unsympathetic elimination of Ghana at the Quarter-Final stage.
As the attention ebbed away from African teams to the Europeans and South Americans, so too the focus on South Africa, and the wondrous similarities and differences it shares with the continent as a whole, reverted to a view of a passive Africa; wide-eyed and smiling as the football world passed them by.
Too easily, all of a sudden, the genuine optimism was forgotten, replaced by sentimental dreams which the reality of football so rarely rewards. The hope behind Drogba, one of African football’s leading lights, became just another footnote in history.
“You can’t be too disappointed when exiting a group like this,” said Ivory Coast’s all-time leading goal-scorer and Player of the Year for Chelsea, the English Premier League Champions. “We have a good team and good players but Brazil and Portugal are better than us. In an easier group, perhaps we’d have gone through.”
In a tournament in which each African team, together and individually, was so happily used to represent Africa itself, Drogba’s closing comments express the failure of such a cultural gamble. If the African teams succeeded, Africa succeeded. But the passivity of their failures, in humble acknowledgement of the gulf that lies above them, inspires nothing but forgetting. The one remaining hope is that Africa, too, is not forgotten.
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