A soothing balm

The talismanic Didier Drogba — moments after leading his nation to the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany — picked up a microphone in the dressing room and, surrounded by his team-mates, fell to his knees live on national television. He pleaded with the warring factions to lay down their arms and, within a week, his wish had been granted. The leaders, who had been at each others’ throats, began peace talks, and eventually signed a peace treaty in March 2007.

Sport can reach parts politicians can’t. It can help in bringing divided conflicts together in a way nothing else can

— Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister

Enmeshed in civil conflict since 2002, the peace effort by the United Nations and the French military did not bear fruit. Under such circumstances, few would have expected the Cote d’Ivorie football team to bring about a truce between the warring groups.

The talismanic Didier Drogba — moments after leading his nation to the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany — picked up a microphone in the dressing room and, surrounded by his team-mates, fell to his knees live on national television.

He pleaded with the warring factions to lay down their arms and, within a week, his wish had been granted. The leaders, who had been at each others’ throats, began peace talks, and eventually signed a peace treaty in March 2007.

“It was something I did instinctively,” Drogba said. “All the players hated what was happening in our country and reaching the World Cup was the perfect emotional wave on which to ride on.”

Though Drogba was successful in his peace initiative, his desire to see Cote d’Ivoire in the knock-out stages of the World Cup did not materialise.

In the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, the team was bundled out in the group stages after figuring in the ‘Group of Death.’ In Germany, the side lost to Argentina and the Netherlands, before rallying from 2-0 down to overcome Serbia. Four years later, Cote d’Ivoire was pitted against Brazil, Portugal, and North Korea in Group G and went on to finish a creditable third behind Brazil and Portugal. The team still, however, had to leave the tournament in the early stage.

The Elephants, despite possessing world-class talents, have failed to live up to expectations, since their maiden Africa Cup of Nations triumph in 1992. The team did reach the final of the 2012 edition but lost to unfancied Zambia 8-7 in the final (via penalties).

Interestingly, the team has been involved in two of the longest penalty shoot-outs in Africa Cup history. A 24-shot marathon in the 1992 final saw Cote d’Ivoire edge out Ghana 11-10, and another 24-shot thriller in the quarter-finals of the 2006 edition saw the team knock out Cameroon 12-11.

* * * Star of the 1992 ACN

Considered as one of the best Ivorian players of all time, Youssouf Fofana Falikou steered AS Monaco to French Ligue 1 title in 1988 and Coupe de France in 1991. He was a member of the 1992 Africa Cup of Nations winning team and earned nicknames like `The Dribbler' and `The Black Diamond'.

Alain Gouamene, another architect of the 1992 victory, did not concede a single goal in the tournament. Adjudged the `Best Goalkeeper' of the edition, he made three stunning saves against Cameroon, which earned the team a place in the final. He also showed his goal-scoring ability by converting the final penalty against Cameroon.