August 15, 2013

Bitter-sweet return for Ivorian star Drogba


JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – Didier Drogba made a bitter-sweet return to international football midweek, scoring a goal as Ivory Coast crumbled 4-1 against Mexico in a New York friendly.

Introduced at half-time after the central Americans built a three-goal advantage at the MetLife Stadium, the 35-year-old Ivorian talisman soon made an impact.

A Drogba free kick was blocked by the arm of Gerrardo Torrado, earning a penalty, and the Turkey-based striker sent the goalkeeper the wrong way from the spot.

But there was to be no heroic comeback by the ‘Elephants’ from west Africa and Mexico completed the scoring with a stoppage-time goal.

While the scoreline was embarrassing for the No.1 ranked African national team, they were short of several stars, including reigning African Footballer of the Year Yaya Toure.

French coach Sabri Lamouchi also kept several big names on the bench until the interval, by which time the bulk of the damage had been done.

Battling declining form and fitness after a move from Chelsea to China backfired due to low football standards in his new surrounds, the ‘Drog’ flopped at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.

Lamouchi did the seemingly unthinkable for a group game against Tunisia in South Africa and axed the long-serving skipper and leading scorer.

He was brought back but Nigeria comfortably contained him as serial Cup of Nations underachievers Ivory Coast slumped to a 2-1 quarter-finals loss.

Lamouchi bucked a trend of Ivory Coast coaches who fail to deliver the Africa Cup being sacked, and among his first decisions was to banish Drogba.

Told to improve his form and fitness, Drogba obliged, and now he must await the naming of the squad for a dead-rubber World Cup qualifier against Morocco during September.

Ivory Coast clinched top place in Group C and a place in the 10-team play-offs by winning 4-2 in Tanzania last June after earlier home and away victories over Gambia.

The two-leg play-offs are scheduled for October and November with the five winners securing places at the 2014 World Cup finals in Bazil.

Drogba told reporters after the Nigeria loss that his dream was to play at the World Cup before quitting international football while continuing his club career, possibly in the United States.

Tunisia won easily, Burkina Faso narrowly and Algeria and Libya were held at home as teams warmed up for the World Cup qualifiers, when seven play-off places will be at stake.

Kuwait-based striker Issam Jemaa bagged a brace after Wahbi Khazri put Tunisia ahead in a 3-0 triumph over Congo Brazzaville in Tunis suburb Rades.

Chelsea youngster Bertrand Traore also scored twice as Burkina Faso edged Morocco 2-1 in Tangier with Abdulaziz Barrada pulling one goal back.

Algeria started superbly against Guinea with Adlene Guedioura and Abdelmoumene Djabou netting during the first quarter of a Blida friendly.

But Salim Cisse and Oumar Kalabane goals during the second half earned a 2-2 draw for Guinea, one of four teams in action with no hope of making the World Cup.

After a loss in Jordan last weekend, Libya were hoping to bounce back by defeating Central African Republic in Tripoli, but had to settle for a disappointing 0-0 stalemate.