All the world feels Drogba's pain
Africa's hopes of having one of its teams finally reach a World Cup semifinal suffered a severe blow after Didier Drogba ruled himself out of this summer's edition with a broken arm.
The Ivory Coast striker, certainly the best player in Africa and arguably the best current striker in the world, was caught at full speed by a flying knee from Japan defender Tulio Tanaka during their "friendly" warmup match on Friday. While coach Sven-Goran Eriksson had not officially ruled his captain out, it would be nothing short of miraculous if Drogba were to play.
At 32 years of age, it's unlikely that the Chelsea star will get another shot at World Cup glory four years from now in Brazil, which makes his exit all the more difficult to take.
But Drogba's absence doesn't simply affect one nation -- it greatly affects an entire continent thrust into the world spotlight after being granted its first ever World Cup. African teams have always had talented players, but could never display the discipline, tactical acumen and grit required over an entire month to go deep into the tournament.
With the World Cup on African soil, and the continent's best players getting four more years of top-level club experience under their belts, that was supposed to change. Following Drogba's injury, that's looking less and less likely with the tournament just a week away.
Hosts South Africa could reach the knockout stage on euphoria alone, but their lack of world class talent will be exposed in the next round. Ghana, a potential favorite, lost its best player in Michael Essien just a week ago. Nigeria is short on discipline and a true leader on the pitch, and now the Ivory Coast, probably Africa's greatest hope, has lost its talisman and emotional leader.
While Algeria is indeed on African soil, cultural and religious divides don't really put it in the same category as the rest of the continent.
At this point, the best bet for African glory at the World Cup is Cameroon (the same team that made it to the World Cup quarterfinals in 1990), but temperamental star striker Samuel Eto'o has been all over the news lately with threats of leaving the squad after criticism levied at him by former "Indomitable Lions" star Roger Milla. Eto'o will most likely stay with the team, but his recent outbursts and the domestic squabbling can't be good for team morale.
It's safe to say that "The Elephants" were probably Africa's greatest hope despite being drawn into the Group of Death (with Brazil and Portugal) and facing a potential Round of 16 clash with Spain had they advanced. But without Drogba leading the way, that now appears to be nothing more than a dream. The Ivorians still have a talented roster at Eriksson's disposal, but without their main goal-getter and inspirational leader on the pitch, simply reaching the knockout stage would be a stunning accomplishment.
Injuries are, of course, part and parcel for any sport, but Africa sure looks hard done with Drogba's loss. It raises the question once again over the value of friendly matches ahead of major tournaments, but how else should teams learn to come together on the pitch to best maximize their chances of success when the real whistle blows?
And while all of Africa must truly be in mourning over this most recent loss, the entire world should feel devastated as we will be robbed of watching one of the game's greatest players on its grandest stage. With the absences of stars like Drogba and Essien, a vital piece of what could have been is missing.
And that’s a shame for everyone who will be tuning in.