Drogba seeks to go out on a high
Ivory Coast icon Didier Drogba hopes to exit the international football stage in a blaze of glory at the 2014 World Cup.
That would mean the `Elephants` claiming at least a top-two finish in a Group C with no clear favourite and reaching the knockout stage for the first time.
Unlucky 2006 and 2010 group draws condemned the West Africans to finishing third behind Argentina and the Netherlands in Germany and third behind Brazil and Portugal in South Africa.
But fixtures against Colombia, Japan and Greece present 36-year-old Drogba with an excellent opportunity to retire on a high.
The Ivorians have been branded Africa Cup of Nations `chokers`, having failed to justify being title favourites at five consecutive tournaments.
However, they proved stubborn World Cup opponents, holding Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Portugal 0-0 in 2010 and going down by one-goal margins to Argentina and the Dutch.
"Competing at the previous two tournaments was very difficult," Drogba, who now plays for Galatasaray in Turkey, admitted to Ivorian reporters.
"We have a realistic chance to do better in Brazil and get past the first round," added the 99-cap star, who has scored 63 goals for the `Elephants`.
Sabri Lamouchi had never coached at senior level when put in charge of the country that has topped the Africa rankings for many years despite winning no titles.
He took charge in 2012 after Francois Zahoui paid the price for losing a Cup of Nations final shootout to outsiders Zambia.
A year later the former France midfielder did the once unthinkable by dropping Drogba for a Nations Cup group game and later for two World Cup qualifiers but it had a positive effect on the player.
There were no tantrums from the former Chelsea star, who left China for a higher level of football in Turkey and improved his form and fitness.
Lamouchi is convinced Drogba -- whose greatest moment came when he scored the equaliser and then the winning penalty for Chelsea in a shootout against Bayern Munich in the 2012 Champions League final -- can play a pivotal role in a group with no clear favourites.
"Didier is a great footballer who contributes so much to the team and he can be a major factor in Brazil," said the coach.
"Ivory Coast have never reached the second round and should we do so in Brazil, there is a sense that nothing is impossible."
Neutrals are divided over the `Elephants` with former Liverpool and England midfielder John Barnes optimistic and ex-Ivory Coast coach Philippe Troussier pessimistic.
"I believe Ivory Coast will go furthest of the five African teams," said Barnes, an analyst for the Johannesburg-based SuperSport channel.
Troussier tips Colombia and Japan to advance, adding: "The Ivorians are less hungry for success now and physically the team is getting very old."
Age is a concern with goalkeeper Boubacar Barry 34 and centre-backs Kolo Toure and Didier Zokora will both be 33 when the World Cup kicks off.
Midfield strongman Yaya Toure, a younger brother of Kolo, has added consistent scoring to his powerful running and precision passing and will be another key figure.
The footwork, pace and creativity of midfielder Gervinho -- who has had an outstanding season for Serie A side AS Roma -- is another reason why Ivory Coast and Drogba could enjoy a memorable World Cup.