Didier Drogba: The legend continues

Rick Olivares - The Philippine Star

The Legend of Didier Drogba will continue.

The man has had stadia named after him in France of all places; that’s the Le Stade Didier Drogba in Levallois, Paris. A street in Abidjan, Ivory Coast has been renamed Rue Didier Drogba. There is a national dance, called the “Drogbacite” where people copy his moves to a manic beat. And there’s more.

He once donated his signing bonus to the creation of a hospital in his native country. The most popular football club in Ivory Coast happens to be whatever team Drogba is playing for at the moment. When he plays, life in his country stops.

There is a beer, Windhoek Beer, that is commonly known as “Drogba Beer” not only because he endorses the brand but also according to those who chug it down it is because it is big and strong just like the footballer himself.

And the civil war that seemed to wrack the Ivory Coast forever? He ended it by calling for a ceasefire. Oh, you can add the title of United Nations Sport for Development and Peace Goodwill Ambassador.

Find another footballer, let alone another athlete on God’s green earth who has transfixed countries and changed lives across two continents.

And now… there’s that match against Japan to open their 2014 World Cup campaign in Brazil.

Down 1-nil after Keisuke Honda put the Blue Samurai ahead in only the 16th minute, the Elephants, as the Ivory Coast football team is fondly nicknamed, launched wave after wave of attack against Japan.

The Japanese did not simply sit back and repel all sorties. They also launched raids of their own with Atsuto Uchida nearly doubling the lead had he not gone for glory instead of passing into the middle of the box where he had teammates in a better position to score.

The Elephants made a mockery of Japan’s wing defense as they raced up and down the line and fired crosses with near impunity.

However, Japan’s defense held fast.

Drogba in the meantime looked unhappy sitting on the bench unable to help. With time fast running out on the Elephants, manager Sabri Lemouchi, tapped the striker to enter the fray.

Drogba entered in the 62nd minute and his impact – despite not scoring or even assisting on any of the strikes – was instantaneous. With one of the best goal scorers in the game on the pitch, the Blue Samurai’s defense was stretched.

Two minutes into Ivory Coast’s talisman entered the match, Serge Aurier fired a wicked cross that Wilfried Bony headed in. A minute later, Aurier sent another cross that this time that Yao Gervinho likewise headed in. Two-one, Ivory Coast.

The Elephants held on for the win.

Hailed Lamouchi after the match, “When Didier Drogba came on the pitch everything changed. When you have this caliber of player on the pitch you are very lucky. Of course, he was frustrated to be on the bench but if you saw the joy when he finished the match... he is a champion.”

The 36-year old Drogba is nearing the end of a brilliant career that took him from France to England to China and ultimately, Turkey. He has scored 174 goals for different clubs and 65 for his country.

While he has known success with his clubs, leading Ivory Coast to a championship has proven to be a tougher quest. He has led the Elephants to the last two World Cups and five consecutive African Nations Cups.

On the World Cup stage, Ivory Coast has failed to advance while in continental play, they have been eternal bridesmaids. This World Cup in all likelihood, is his last, hence, unfinished business.

After the final whistle blew giving Ivory Coast a stunning come-from-behind 2-1 win over Japan, Drogba, the Nelson Mandela of football, gathered his team and spoke to them.

When the civil war raged in his home country, Drogba spoke on television with his teammates surrounding him and implored the warring sides to lay down their weapons and work to the unification of their country. “Forgive,” he said a couple of times. “Forgive.”

And incredibly, miraculously, the fighting ended.

Lamouchi, who was the last man cut from France’s team that won the World Cup in 1998, may not be considered a genius for keeping Drogba in the freezer for much of the game. Fitness level was Lamouchi’s reason.

It is indeed true that Drogba’s face exuded joy to be back on the pitch. He missed his one attempt at goal. But his presence was enough to inspire his beloved Elephants to victory.

I am sure he has forgiven his coach for not starting him. Winning does cure all ills. So right now, he has shifted to another key word, “Believe.”

And the story continues.

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