Hope amid conflict in Ivory Coast

Just over 10 years ago, the biggest success story in Ivory Coast was its economy.

    Football is one of the few unifying factors in Ivory Coast

    A thriving centre of relative political stability, the country was an example to its West African neighbours. Except that is when it came to football.

    Football was one thing Ivory Coast was not very good at. How times have changed.   

    Now the country has become defined by civil war and division, while the football team has made it to the World Cup. That the side has to be successful is one of the few issues on which there is still a consensus.

    To see the players relaxing by the swimming pool in a five star hotel, it is easy to forget about the less than luxurious state of the country they represent.


    Nickname: The Elephants
    Previous World Cup appearances: 0
    Star player:

    Didier Drogba

    Most of the squad now live and play in Europe. But while many footballers could be accused of being insulated from the realities of the outside world, the same cannot quite be said of this team.

    Kolo Toure’s current status is that of a millionaire playing for the English premiership side Arsenal.

    But his first kicks of a ball were made in Adjame, a slum area on the edge of Ivory Coast's largest city, Abidjan.

    "You can never forget where you come from," he says.


    Civil war has battered Ivory
    Coast's image

    "In a strange way the problems at home have helped us. It has made us more determined as a team, because we know what football still means to everyone. To see the people so happy after we made it to the World Cup is the reason we carry on playing."

    The Ivorians biggest star by some distance is Chelsea’s Didier Drogba.

    His nine goals in qualifying fired his side to the top of a group that also included Cameroon and Egypt.

    When the team do venture into the public domain his is the hand people want to shake, his the face they want to be photographed with.

    There is perhaps an understandable degree of world weariness when Drogba talks to the media.

    He tends to precede answers with a shrug and can appear constantly distracted during press conferences.

    The only time his gaze and mind can definitely be focussed is when the subject of the people he represents comes up.


    The 2006 team look to be the
    strongest of the African sides

    "Football is one of the few good things our country has now," he says. "Even if it is just for one or two hours, people can sit together and forget about any differences they might have."

    While football can create some common ground, it is too easy to see this team as a simple means of uniting a country. Sport and human beings are just too fickle a creation.   

    After reaching the final at this year’s African Cup of Nations the side were met by tens of thousands of supporters at Abidjan airport.

    By contrast, after a disastrous Nations Cup in 2000 the team were met at the airport by the army. The players were then taken directly to a military boot camp where they were given time to "reflect on the shame they had brought to the Ivory Coast."

    The team look to be the strongest African side to have reached Germany. But they have found themselves in the toughest of groups, alongside Argentina, Holland and Serbia-Montenegro.

    If they can negotiate that anything is possible in the knock-out rounds, and a triumphant return home is guaranteed. If they can’t, Drogba and his friends may just find themselves dusting off their combat fatigues.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera



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