Saturday, January 21, 2006

Ivory Coast Elephants

Every two years, the best 16 football (soccer) teams in Africa play in the African Nations Cup.

This year the competition is being held in Egypt.

Today, Ivory Coast beat Morocco 1-0 in their first group game. Didier Drogba, the Chelsea striker, scored the only goal but also picked up a knee injury.

Africans take their football very seriously.

We happened to be in Abidjan when Ivory Coast won the competition in 1992. After a scoreless draw in the final, Ivory Coast, nicknamed ‘The Elephants’, went on to beat Ghana in an 11-10 penalty shootout.

It seemed like everyone in the country went crazy. We were warned to stay off the streets with our vehicles because excited fans were dancing on the roofs of cars!

In 2000, when the competition was held in Ghana, Ivory Coast again beat Ghana, this time in the preliminary stage. However, because of poor results against the other teams in the group, Ivory Coast failed to qualify for the next round.

When the team members returned to Ivory Coast they were detained by the military authorities in an army training camp near Yamoussoukro.

A spokesman for the military government said the squad was being held for its own protection, to guard against possible reprisals by angry fans. But others in the military junta said that they were being held “to teach them a lesson in civic pride”, and “for letting down the country at the Nations Cup in Ghana.”

The BBC’s Mark Doyle said: This incident shows once again that soccer is not so much a sport in Africa as a religion.”