The Cote D'Ivoire & the Top 5 African Golden Generations
One of the most fascinating sub-plots of Africa’s performance at the upcoming World Cup will be the Cote d’Ivoire’s third appearance at the global high table.
A decade ago, a prodigious group of youngsters emerged from the ASEC Mimosas academy in Abidjan. This collection of players went on to form the backbone of the Ivorian side that will compete in Brazil this summer.
In the intervening period, the players have accrued numerous individual and domestic honours while also helping the Elephants to qualify for their first two World Cups.
They have managed neither to win a Cup of Nations title nor escape from the group stage of the World Cup. Could the Golden Generation, at this late stage of their narrative, finally achieve success on the international arena?
To try and answer that question, we'll look at the Ivorian side compared to four other African Golden Generations.
No African nation had ever completed a hat-trick of continental crowns, yet between 2006 and 2010, Egypt did just that, winning the AFCON in 2006, 2008 and 2010.
This represents a truly remarkable feat and one that—considering the increasing competitiveness of world and African football—is unlikely to be repeated any time soon.
Some players, such as Wael Gomaa and Essam El-Hadary (who was also present when Egypt won in 1998) were present for all three triumphs. Luminaries such as Ahmed Hassan, Hossam Hassan, Mohamed Aboutrika and Emad Moteab were also key figures, while the likes of Amr Zaki, Gedo and Mido also made memorable contributions.
This was a fine group of players, but perhaps most importantly, they were an excellent team. Many of the players played together at Cairene giants Al-Ahly, and this cohesion was often evident during their three consecutive triumphs.
The great misstep for this team, one of the finest Africa has ever known, is that they never managed to qualify for a World Cup.
They missed out on the 2010 showpiece following a tense play-off against bitter rivals Algeria and fell short four years earlier after being drawn in a taxing qualification group alongside Cameroon and the Cote d’Ivoire.
Cote D'Ivoire 2006-Present
It’s hard to point to another generation of African players that have featured for major European sides and influenced the elite fixtures of the world game like this group. Crucially, the Golden Generation of the Cote d’Ivoire emerged, developed and peaked at the same time.
For the last five years, the likes of Didier Drogba, the Toure brothers, Salomon Kalou, Gervinho and Didier Zokora have been in the prime of their careers and have played with the cohesion of over a decade of experience together.
The Elephants national side, who had never qualified for a World Cup before 2006, was forged on the fields of Abidjan at the fabled ASEC Mimosas academy. All of those named above (excluding Droba) as well as the likes of Arthur Boka, Romaric and Emmanuel Eboue are all ASEC graduates.
The great failing of the Ivorians, however, has been their inability to crown their glory with either an African Championship or progression from the World Cup group stage.
The AFCON has become an almost-inevitable lesson in choking and wilting at the pressurised end of competition, while tough draws at the international high table have prevented the Elephants from tasting the knock-out rounds.
The upcoming tournament in Brazil represents a final opportunity for the ageing Ivorians to leave a lasting legacy on the global scene as a collective.
From the mid- to late '90s, Nigeria were Africa’s dominant force. Their continental superiority was born from a stunning collection of players who reached their prime almost simultaneously.
In 1994, the Super Eagles won the African Championship then made their World Cup debut. After topping a group containing Argentina, they crashed out in the Last 16.
In 1996, a modified collective won gold at the Atlanta Olympics. At the 1998 World Cup, the Super Eagles topped a taxing World Cup group after beating Spain in a thriller in the opening match.
Things unravelled soon after, however, as Nigeria, compromising their tactics, were picked apart by Denmark in the second round.
While the Cote d’Ivoire’s Golden Generation have achieved more as individuals at club level, it’s hard to argue that their stars bring more fantasy or flair to the table than Nigeria’s own Golden Generation.
One suspects their international haul would have been greater as well had they not been banned from the AFCON in 1996 and 1998.
The Indomitable Lions were Africa’s dominant force in the 1980s and early 1990s, crowning a decade that saw two AFCON triumphs (and a third final appearance) with a run to the World Cup quarter-finals in Italy.
However, 10 years later, the Central Africans produced a collection of players that could better be described as a Golden Generation.
For a two-year period at the beginning of the new century, Cameroon were unstoppable. They claimed AFCON gold in 2000 before winning the Olympic gold in Australia in September of the same year.
In 2002, they became the first side since 1965 to retain the continental crown as they beat World Cup-bound Senegal on penalties in Bamako.
However, 18 months later, the nation’s rise came to an abrupt halt at the 2003 Confederations Cup in Lyon when Marc-Vivien Foe collapsed on the Stade Gerland turf.
The midfielder’s death not only deprived the side of one of its crucial components, its engine room, but it also had a profound affect on his team-mates.
The reigning champions fell at the quarter-final stage of the next AFCON and failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup. Pierre Wome’s missed spot-kick hastened the end of the nation’s glittering era and sent the Indomitable Lions into a steep decline.
It remains to be seen just how golden Ghana’s 2009 U-20 generation will prove to be.
At the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Egypt, the Black Satellites claimed their first title after a penalty-shootout victory against Brazil in the final.
Then-national team manager Milovan Rajevac wasn’t slow to incorporate the conquering kids into the senior set-up and set about imbuing the Black Stars squad with the new players.
That team are all in their mid-20s now and many of them—Daniel Adjei, Samuel Inkoom, Jonathan, David Addy, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Andre Ayew, Daniel Opare and Mohammed Rabiu—are all at least in contention for Ghana’s World Cup squad.
By contrast, only two players on the Brazil team at that tournament, Giuliano and Ganso, have made senior appearances for their national team. Neither man is a realistic bet for a spot at the upcoming World Cup.
The one great regret of that side is Dominic Adiyiah. The talented forward (pictured vs. Uruguay in 2010) won both the Player of the Tournament award and the Golden Boot, but despite appearing for Ghana in the West Africans’ terrific run to the World Cup quarter-final a year later, he is currently without a club and is threatening to drift into obscurity.