Drogba: It’s about the team
Johannesburg – Ivory Coast captain Didier Drogba doesn’t believe the team revolves around him anymore. The team’s fans think otherwise.
The Ivorians arrived in South Africa on Wednesday to begin another desperate quest for a long-awaited African Cup of Nations title.
The tournament favourites were showered with flowers by noisy, drum-beating fans at a small airport on the outskirts of Johannesburg.
Even with African player-of-the-year Yaya Toure and other high-profile stars in Ivory Coast’s powerful squad, Drogba was still the one the hundreds of fans clamoured to see.
In bright orange T-shirts, the supporters pushed up against metal security fences to touch the tall striker and offer him flowers as he walked past them and onto the team bus.
One woman, with an Ivorian flag wrapped around her waist, fell to the ground and moaned, “Drogba, Drogba,” as the bus pulled away.
Africa’s best player for probably the last decade, Drogba is now 34 and has touched down at what many expect will be his last African Cup. He’ll be nearly 37 when the next one rolls around.
Even so, Drogba said he wouldn’t let his unfulfilled desire for the international title that will complement a glorious club career distract the Ivorian team this month.
“I’m not thinking about myself, I’m thinking about the team,” he said.
Ivory Coast, despite their rich recent talent, haven’t won the continental championship in over 20 years.
“There’s no pressure at all,” he added after being asked if his time was running out. “I think we still have time.”
Drogba wouldn’t even get into the business of his club career, and whether a move back to Europe from China was an imminent possibility.
“The focus for me is the African Cup,” he said, “so I don’t want to speak about what’s happening in China. African Cup, thank you.”
The Ivorians flew in to Lanseria International Airport – Johannesburg’s second airport – in a white chartered plane with “Cote d’Ivoire” emblazoned on the sides in orange letters.
The players smiled, waved and touched hands with the fans through the fence and posed for photographs for their followers as they emerged from the terminal.
They’ll relocate to Rustenburg in the next few days, where they meet Togo, Algeria and Tunisia in Group D.
“It’s a tough group,” Drogba said, “(but) if you want to win it, you have to face the best teams.”
Toure and coach Sabri Lamouchi also indicated the players were aware of but not overburdened by the expectation again placed on Africa’s top-ranked team, who have had a string of heart-breaking near misses in recent African Cups.
The disappointment culminated in a painful loss to Zambia in a marathon penalty shootout in the final at the last tournament, just 12 months ago.
Toure said the Ivorians “have to be as strong as possible.”
“What we want is to prove to our fans that we want this trophy,” the Manchester City midfielder said. “We have to concentrate match after match.”
Coach Lamouchi, speaking through a translator, said: “We are here for a mission.”