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World Cup Dark Horse Series: Part 2

Last week 86 Forever looked at 8th-ranked Switzerland as a national team with an outside chance of doing some damage in Brazil this summer. This week, in Part 2 of the series, we drop down the FIFA rankings - all the way to 21st, as we examine the Group C contenders, Ivory Coast.

Didier Drogba (#11) splits the Mexican defence. Can the Ivorian lead his country to greatness on the world stage?
Didier Drogba (#11) splits the Mexican defence. Can the Ivorian lead his country to greatness on the world stage?
Jeff Zelevansky
Ivory Coast

When it comes to Group C, most pundits are in full agreement on two things: Colombia will be runaway winners, and that Japan are cast as the rather distant underdogs. That leaves Greece and Ivory Coast to battle it out for second spot, and a pass into the final 16.

Yes, I can already hear the protestations.. "Dude! Didier Drogba's what? 36? He drinks more embalming fluid than Gatorade."

Now at the end of a storied career, the former EPL star is indeed long of tooth, and relegated to toiling in Turkey (Galatasaray) for a mere pittance compared to what he once commanded. It's a long time since his glory days with Chelsea. And in truth, Drogba's not alone in the aging department for Les Elephants, as no fewer than 12 members of the Ivorian national team were born in 1985 or earlier. But the same search of the Greek national squad leads into the realm of ancient history, as no fewer than 16 of their roster meet the same criteria.

Soccer, perhaps more than any other professional sport is a young man's game, thanks in no small part to the limited substitution rule - just ask defender Emmanuel Eboue, who failed to make coach Sabri Lamouchi's final cuts. But that's not to say there isn't room for a veteran to make his mark.

For making their mark is something the Ivorians have failed to accomplish in the two previous World Cups. In 2006, the side played decently - dropping a pair of matches by 2-1 to Argentina and then The Netherlands en route to an early exit. In 2010, they were edged out for second  in their group by Portugal, who finished just a point above them.

It's been almost a decade since Ivory Coast began its ascent to challenge for footballing supremacy in Africa, but as Sportsnet's Jerrad Peters writes in his excellent article, this is the last shot at greatness for Ivory Coast's "Golden Generation".

Which brings me round again to what, if anything, makes them dangerous. The likes of Drogba, Gervinho (AS Roma), Salomon Kalou (Lille), Cheik Tiote (Newcastle Utd), Kolo (Liverpool) and Yaya Toure (Man City) have enjoyed stellar careers with their club teams, but have never put it all together on the world stage. For most of them, this will be their last kick at that proverbial can - and they know it.

There's no greater motivation than having your back up against the wall, especially when it's Father Time pinning you there.

It remains to be seen if the Ivorians can finally meet the expectations of an entire continent, and manage to fight their way past a Greek side that's had more success in Euro competitions than it has in the World Cup. The make-or-break shot for the Elephants will very likely come down to their final Group Stage match on June 24, when they take on, who else? Greece.

At the knockout stage all bets are off, as anything can happen. Give an Elephant a running start, and there's not too many who want to get in his way.