Drogba: close, but no cigar
DIDIER Drogba's dream is over.
One of Africa's greatest footballers is now 34 years old and it seems he was never destined to win the continent's supreme prize.
He left Africa's football stage on Sunday night for the last time, his Ivory Coast team eliminated 2-1 in a shock defeat by Nigeria in the quarterfinals of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Drogba made his debut for Ivory Coast in a World Cup qualifier against Bafana Bafana in 2002, a goalless draw in Abidjan. He has been to six Nations Cups, coming closest last year when Ivory Coast lost on penalties to eventual champions Zambia.
The last time Ivory Coast, one of football's powerhouses in Africa, won the Nations Cup was in 1992, when Drogba was about to turn 18.
"It's all over," said a downcast Drogba on Sunday night after the match at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg.
He said it was now time for Ivory Coast to channel their energies into qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. They are in Group C along with Tanzania, Morocco and Gambia. After a win and a draw, they head the group on four points.
"We are now going to focus on the World Cup, even if I'm not there," said Drogba, who was as unimpressive as the rest of the team in this Afcon upset.
The Ivorians went into this Nations Cup - as they have in the past four tournaments - as the hot favourites. Yet again they failed to finish as the last team standing. Besides Drogba, other world-class players who were in the Ivorian team that failed to emulate the success of their Class of 1992 included Yaya and Kolo Toure, Salomon Kalou, Emmanuel Eboue and Didier Zakora.
The golden generation of Ivorian players featured twice in finals of the last four Nations Cups. The Elephants reached the semifinals in Ghana in 2008 and were eliminated in the quarterfinals in Angola two years later.
It has been a sad past 12 months for Drogba. He left Chelsea to play for China's premier league club Shanghai Shenhua on a two-and-a-half-year contract, leaving last month after just six months to join Galatasaray.
Along with Drogba, one of the saddest players in the Ivory Coast team was former Mamelodi Sundowns defender Siaka Tiene.
"I was hoping I could return to South Africa and help my country win the Nations Cup," said a heartbroken Tiene.