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Saturday, November 28, 2020

Enyeama vs Drogba: The big meetings in review

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How did the two African Legends Cup of Nations rivals fare when Nigeria and Ivory Coast faced off at the Africa Cup of Nations in 2006 and 2013?

For all the years they played in Europe, it’s something of a surprise that African Legends Cup of Nations rivals Vincent Enyeama and Didier Drogba only faced each other twice in their careers, with both meetings coming at international level.

Their twin encounters at the Africa Cup of Nations in 2006 (semi-final) and 2013 (quarter-final) were the only occasions the shot-stopper and striker faced off, and it’s striking that these games, seven years, found the pair at very different stages of their career.

In Egypt, Nigeria’s shot-stopper was in his second year at lowly Israeli club Bnei Yehuda and wasn’t the near world class player he developed into when both stars met in South Africa.

Ivory Coast’s captain, on the other hand, was in the middle of his second season with Chelsea when the Elephants played their West African rivals in Alexandria, but had faded seven years later when both nations renewed hostilities in Rustenburg in the last eight.

How did both encounters pan out, and how did the aforementioned stars fare in their only two encounters?

Nigeria vs Ivory Coast (Afcon semi-final 2006)

Both nations did battle at the Haras El Hodoud Stadium seeking to reach the final, with hosts Egypt facing Senegal in Cairo in the second semi-final encounter.

Up until then, Enyeama had conceded twice in four games in the competition but had come up trumps in the previous round against Tunisia, where he saved three penalties in the dramatic shoot-out success over the Carthage Eagles.

The Akwa Ibom native also scored from the spot in the 6-5 success over the North African giants, so he went into the semis high on confidence.

Drogba, for his part, was enjoying a decent tournament in Egypt.

The Elephants’ skipper had scored twice in the competition, and was the hero in their quarter-final clash with Cameroon, at the expense of Samuel Eto’o, whose sudden-death miss proved costly. 

Seven minutes in, the ex-Enyimba goalie and then-Chelsea man faced off.

Ivory Coast, who began the game the brighter side, won a free-kick 20 years from goal inside right, which probably favoured a left-footer. Drogba, typically, assumed responsibility and side footed an effort towards goal but the well-positioned Enyeama parried assertively for a corner.

That was to be their major direct confrontation in that opening half, which ended goalless…however the game’s turning point was imminent.

Barely a minute after the restart, failure to put pressure on the ball gave Romaric all the time in the world to pick out the Elephants’ talisman with a well-weighted long ball to send him eyeball-to-eyeball with Nigeria’s number one.

Drogba finished with aplomb, between the stopper’s legs, to put the Ivorians ahead and en route to their first Afcon final since 1992. Not even the introduction of Jay-Jay Okocha could inspire Augustin Eguavoen’s troops to mount a comeback, and the 1994 winners were eliminated.

While the Eagles went on to claim the bronze at the finals, defeating Senegal 1-0, Drogba missed in a shoot-out defeat at the hands of Egypt to continue the West Africans’ drought on the continent.

Even though the Blues legend was the highest-scoring player on his team with three goals, he couldn’t lead the ‘Golden Generation’ to a title they longed for.

Nigeria vs Ivory Coast (Afcon quarter-final 2013)

The meeting between both players in South Africa was understandably under different circumstances; Enyeama was now one of the top goalkeepers in Europe, while Drogba had departed Chelsea in May 2012 after Champions League success, and began the finals on the books of Chinese side Shanghai Shenhua (a move to Galatasaray was agreed in late January). 

The roles were reserved for both sides too; despite Nigeria being the in-form side before 2006’s encounter, the Ivory Coast were one of the favourites for the 2013 showpiece and seven points from nine in the group stage emphasised this.

Stephen Keshi’s side, on the other hand, needed two late Victor Moses strikes in their final group game with Ethiopia to win 2-0 and guarantee progress from Group C with five points.

The Super Eagles’ showings had been so underwhelming that the Nigeria Football Federation were reportedly set to sack the 1994 Afcon winning captain after the quarter-final clash, with success unexpected.

Enyeama led the less-fancied Nigerians out, with Drogba on the other side.

Both players were far from protagonists in the encounter, but the ex-Chelsea striker did assist his nation’s equalizer by Cheick Tiote in the 50th-minute. However, Sunday Mba’s deflected effort 12 minutes from time saw the star-studded Ivorians exit disappointingly follwowing the 2-1 loss.

It turned out to be Drogba’s last Afcon and he retired from international football after the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

For Enyeama and his teammates, they grew after that defeat of the Elephants and ended their 19-year wait for success on the continent to win their third Afcon title.

Unlike Drogba seven years earlier, providence favoured the then-Lille shot-stopper who, in contrast to the Ivory Coast’s top goalscorer, won the showpiece at the top of his game.

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