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Ivory Coast fans: In Drogba we trust

Andrew Browne, [email protected]

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ABIDJAN – Football fans in Ivory Coast share an uncanny confidence that Didier Drogba, broken arm or not, will be playing for the national team at the World Cup.
“There’s no doubt in my mind,” said Gervais Coulibaly, sitting in a dirt-floored bar in Adjame, a working class neighbourhood in Abidjan. “Drogba will play and he’ll score.”
The Ivory Coast captain, who broke a bone in his arm during a warm-up match against Japan last Friday, has almost God-like status in this impoverished west African nation, which is still struggling to end a political crisis sparked by a failed coup d’etat almost eight years ago.
Paintings of Drogba’s face adorn hair salons and mobile phone kiosks. His name is emblazoned proudly on the back of countless national team shirts worn by young and old alike. Ever since the striker made it big with Chelsea in 2004, Drogbacite – or Drogba-mania – has seized Ivorians of all kinds.
Drogba is seen as a reconciliatory figure who unites the country, which is divided between a rebel-controlled north and a government-controlled south, rising above the political wrangling among the president, the opposition, and the rebels.
In the working class neighbourhood of Yopougon where Drogba grew up, his image is everywhere from portraits hung in restaurants to murals on the walls of buildings. Despite having left Ivory Coast at the age of five, Drogba is still held up proudly as a local boy.
Dozens of children seem to appear out of nowhere the moment Drogba’s father, Albert, steps out of his SUV beside the house where Didier spent his first years.
They jump up and down screaming “Papa Drogba!” as Albert walks into the cracked concrete courtyard.
“This is where Didier kicked around his first football,” Albert said. “His coaches in France didn’t see his talent at first, but for me, it was pure destiny.”
Drogba, who was raised by his uncle in France from the age of five, admits to feeling more French than Ivorian, but said in his 2008 autobiography that when he was asked to play for the national team, he considered the return to his birth country a privilege, and the rediscovery of his roots a challenge worth taking up. (AP)