While South Africa struggles to get ready for the World Cup.Being an ex-South African thrilled that the country is hosting the Cup I was pissed. There has been a drumbeat of negative publicity, particularly early on from American football journalists as the Americans pushed hard to be named an alternate venue if the South Africans were not capable of getting the work done. Well they did and they are ready. There might be a some glitches but the country is bursting with pride at being the focus of the world for a month that things will work out and a great time will be had by all. Who are the Americans to talk. They screwed up the Summer Olympics in Atlanta so badly it was common for people with tickets not to get to the venues in special buses specifically laid on until the event was half over.
On to the inspirational story. Didier Drogba is one of the best strikers in the world and although he has played all his football in Europe and most recently for Chelsea, one of the top teams in Europe, he represents his home country of the Ivory Coast. The Ivory Coast are one of the top African teams. The country has produced a host of footballers from local football academies who mow play in Europe where the money is.
They qualified for the last World Cup but had to play Holland and Argentina, both world powers in their first two games. They gave as good as they got but lost both games 2-1 rendering their final game against Sebria, which they won, moot. This time they have the unenviable task of playing Portugal and Brazil, ranked #1 and #3 in the world, in their first two games. They need to win one of those to move on assuming they beat an unknown North Korean team in their final group game.
A civil war in the Ivory Coat had waged for five years prior to qualifying for the 2006 cup. In the dressing room after the game that sealed qualification, Drogba lead his teammates onto their knees to beg the warring parties to make peace. They did.
Drogba later helped move an African Cup of Nations qualifier to the rebel stronghold of Bouake to seal the deal. He has donated millions to his charity to build a hospital and to other aid in his country of birth. Time selected him as one of the 6 individuals to grace the cover of Time magazine's current issue on the 100 most influential people in the world.
He and the team are national heroes. Every one in the Ivory Coast will forget about their problems for a few weeks as their eyes turn to South Africa. Football has the power to move nations like no other sport.