By Fred Kaweesi in Brasilia
Colombia v Ivory Coast (Today 7pm)
It’s extremely impossible to find a place in Brazil without a vibrant football scene.
Street football is everywhere – from Rio De Janeiro, to Sao Paulo.
And Brasilia, where the Ivory Coast confront Colombia today in a must-win Group C World Cup fixture, is no exception.
You will find several five-a-side games on the streets leading up to the city center with a majority of kids looking up to some of the city’s best football exports such as AC Milan star Kaka.
The only two foreign exceptions here – and I had to be reminded on account of the World Cup – are Cristiano Ronaldo and Didier Drogba.
Ronaldo, clearly because of his Portuguese background and Drogba largely because of the huge presence of immigrants and refugees in Brasilia.
Brasilia has one of the highest growth rates in Brazil, with its population increasing by 3% each year, mostly because of migration.
Coincidentally, three quarters of Brasilia will root for an Ivory Coast win at the Mane Garrincha Stadium with hopes heavily placed on the aging shoulders of their ‘adopted’ star Drogba.
The Ivorians training at The Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia on Wednesday. PHOTO/AFP
At 36 years old, Drogba is nearing the end of what has been a remarkable career.
But while he has led Ivory Coast to the last two World Cups and five straight African Nations Cups, his international career has been marked by bitter disappointment.
Ivory Coast has flattered to deceive in its two previous campaigns, where they failed to progress from their groups in 2006 and 2010.
Many of the locals here and Ivorians in general hope Drogba and his star-studded cast, can make the most of his final saloon.
“We are a football-mad country. We like good players and Drogba is among them. We will support him today,” Caroll, one of very few English speaking Brazilian fans told New Vision yesterday.
In the first game against Japan, Drogba, looked a man that still has unfinished business playing for his country.
His substitute appearance proved decisive in wrestling the momentum of the fixture for a come-from-behind 2-1 win.
That win provided evidence that Ivory Coast might just finally get to the last sixteen for the first time.
But whether Drogba will start or just come off the bench is only a decision known to team head coach Sabri Lamouchi.
The Colombians, here in training, will face Ivory Coast later on Thursday. PHOTO/AFP
Drogba’s once automatic place in the team has been filled by Wilfried Bony. The Swansea striker repaid Lamouchi’s faith with the equaliser after Japan had taken a 1-0 half-time lead.
“Part of leaving Drogba on the bench was to do with strategy, part of it was his fitness," Lamouchi told the media here.
“The last time he played 90 minutes was a few months ago in Turkey and he’s had an injury since then,” he added.
It will be interesting to see if Drogba’s match-winning appearance against Japan will tempt Lamouchi into a re-think of his strategy.
Colombia still a threat
Ivory Coast’s back-four looked error-prone against Japan, mistakes that Colombia’s enterprising attack will reprimand at the first time of asking.
Colombia have a wealth of attacking riches, led by midfielders James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado on the wing, so much that the absence of injured Radamel Falcao was not felt in their 3-0 win over Greece.
If Ivory Coast are to fight off Colombia, there are two areas in which will have to thrive.
First of all, they will have to stop the supply line to Rodriguez if, as expected, he plays loosely around Edson Cavani.
If the Elephants can stop Rodriguez reveling in possession, Africa could celebrate a place in the knockout stages.