Oil and water do not mix. Politics and football are not supposed to either according to FIFA dictates. History is replete with examples where the lines blur. This week presents another one. The Cote d’ Ivoire national team, ‘Les Elephants’ is in Accra practicing for a ‘home’ match against Benin on Saturday March 26. Originally scheduled for Abidjan, the match has been shifted to Accra, a result of continuing post-electoral violence in the World’s largest cocoa-producing nation.
While the politicians and armed men steer the country ever so closely towards war, football fans in Accra will be treated to the skills of some of the best in the world. Paradoxically, if the multiplying ‘CI’ number plates on the roads is anything to go by, the growing Ivorian population in Ghana’s capital will be able to witness an event they would otherwise not have if Ivorian federation president, Jacques Anouma had his way. Of course, they would probably rather savor the match among their compatriots in peace. For a few hours they will relegate matters of survival to the background and watch a game that more than any shows what a people can accomplish when they come together.
King Didier, Salomon Kalou, Didier Zokora and Gervinho are but a few names in town. Yaya Toure, another star player has been heard of but not seen at the training grounds yet. He arrived on Tuesday evening. There are less heralded names too. Diminutive Leeds United winger Max Gradel is seeking his first cap. Daniel Yeboah, a highly touted ASEC Mimosa goalkeeper was yet to arrive as of Wednesday’s afternoon training session.
Watching the Ivorians there is no doubt of their individual quality. To a man, they are strong, fast, technically gifted. At the risk of self promotion, I would say if they could cultivate some of the team spirit Ghana had at the 2010 World Cup, they would be world beaters. Still, as Ghana itself saw at the Cup of Nations against these very Ivorians, team spirit sometimes only goes so far against great players. So all things being equal, expect the Elephants to stomp the Squirrels.
Kickoff is on Sunday March 27, 1730 GMT. It will be preceded by the Ivorian Olympic team’s qualifying match against Liberia at 1500 GMT