Drogba key to survival in Group of Death

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:13 PM ET

There’s nothing like having the hopes of a nation and a continent on your shoulders.

It’s not an unusual occurrence for the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gianluigi Buffon, Wayne Rooney and others.

But it’s different for the Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba.

How the Chelsea striker responds to the responsibility will determine whether the African nation can survive the 2010 version of the World Cup’s Group of Death.

The Elephants are drawn with five-time world champion Brazil, Portugal and North Korea. Portugal is known for it’s offensive skill and no one is quite sure what to expect from North Korea although the North Koreans will be tough.

Outside of a fans particular favourite team this is the group many will be focused on.

Expectations weigh heavily on the Ivory Coast. They were considered the strongest African side in the World Cup. Playing on their home continent, they had the misfortune to drawing the toughest group.

Into this gurgling cauldron of pressure steps Drogba, a man with terrific skill and tempestuous personality.

Drogba is in form. He finished the season at Chelsea scoring 37 goals in 41 games and won the English Premier League goalscoring title.

When he has service to work with and is in the mood to play, Drogba is a monster to contend with.

At Chelsea, he has an all-star lineup to play with. He is assured of having plenty of help. He had the likes of Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack and others to work with. If he couldn’t score someone else most likely would have.

While Drogba has teammate Salomon Kalou to help him out with the Elephants, Lampard et al are elsewhere.

Drogba always wanted to be the Elephant with the biggest trunk, now he will have that chance.

Will he be able to hold it together?

The new man in charge of the Ivory Coast is Sven-Goran Ericksson. He’s going to have his own issues considering he took over the team two months ago from Vahid Halilhodzic, who was sacked following Ivory Coast’s failure to qualify for the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations.

The former England manager has had a tough time since leaving the England job with short stints in Manchester City and Mexico.

His most important item of business is making sure Drogba is ready to play. Ericksson is already attempting to alleviate the pressure on his star striker by claiming the Elephants can’t just rely on Drogba.

True but not very realistic.

Drogba must have a strong tournament or the Elephants will walk. That doesn’t mean just scoring. It means getting involved, working hard so that the opposition must worry about you. That workload will create space for other players.

He has to but aside the petulant, childish attitude he showed late in the English Premier League season when he was looking for the scoring title. He had a very obvious disagreement with Lampard on the field about who should take a penalty.

Drogba has to recognize the need for him to be physically and mentally ready. He’s the big dog but he can’t forget that team chemistry in these tournaments is vital.

It becomes even more vital since Ericksson will only have his entire team together for a very short time before the tournament.

No African team has progressed beyond the quarter-finals of a World Cup. The Ivory Coast has not played well going into this tournament but the talent it has available suggests this team has the most potential to go further than any other African team.

“I have a lot of top-level players, not only Didier Drogba, who is a great striker,” Eriksson said. “I have spoken about him and he will be extremely important on and off the field.”

It’s a leadership role Drogba must deal with or the Group of Death will be sending the Elephants to their graveyard sooner than anyone expects.


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