Didier Drogba shrugged and smiled. He had thrown two shirts, one he was carrying and the one off his back, into the crowd. Despite being suspended, after two yellow cards, he had joined the 86th-minute dance around the corner flag when Bonaventure Kalou struck the winning penalty, a goal that not only sealed a 3-2 win over Serbia & Monte-negro but also the first three-goal comeback at the World Cup finals since West Germany put three past England's Peter Bonetti in Mexico in 1970. It was a fine way for the "Elephants", this tournament's greatest entertainers thus far, to say farewell.
"We played well, we showed our quality, and that is what mattered," he said. "We showed that we belonged at the World Cup." It was a point that nobody disputed. On a torrential Wednesday night in Munich, the Ivorians did more than that as they departed a tournament they had graced, their skill, brio and joyful football lighting up the Allianz Arena amid thunder and lightning.
But as Drogba, unavailable that evening, was quick to point out, it was a team effort that carried them to the finals for the first time - and a team failing, in defending against vastly more experienced sides, that had let them down. As he talked, another London-based Ivorian star, Kolo Touré, came by. "Wasn't that great?" he beamed. Again, nobody could argue. "It meant so much to us, to the group and to the people."
Next season, another English-speaking Touré could be coming to London - Kolo's younger brother Yaya, 23, a two-footed, fast, gifted playmaking central midfielder who was outstanding in the rain. "He was the best, he bossed the game," grinned the older man, who, at 25, is now established in the Arsenal defence. "I am so proud of him. Maybe there is more for him to learn, but he played so well tonight for us."
Asked if he might persuade Arsène Wenger to recruit him for Arsenal, Touré Snr smiled. "Ah, good question," he said. "It would be nice, but I think he has a contract now in Greece. He has the talent, for sure. He is a better player than me. I tell him that, just as I tell everyone else."
The taller, younger brother, grinning like the rest of a squad who had delighted everyone bar those from the Balkans in a 66,000 capacity crowd, joined the party. "No, that was not my best performance, I can do better," he said. "We believe we are a better team than you have seen here, too. If we had been in a different group - well, we might have gone a long way."
Their 2-1 defeats by Argentina and Holland left many thrilled at the quality and imagination of their football, a fact that delighted both Tourés and Drogba. "Yes, but it is more important to win than to play so well sometimes," said the Chelsea striker. "Now we must go to the next level, be more consistent."
The prospect of the younger Touré arriving in London, or anywhere in the Premiership, is one to savour. On sheer ability, he has few equals at this World Cup. "I have so much to learn and, you know, I am with Olympiakos for two more years," he said. "I am happy there, but it would be a big dream to go to England and play. Maybe Kolo can do it for me!" Another grin, more laughter. Like their football, the Ivory Coast's joie de vivre is infectious.Reuse content