By Mark Gleeson
June 5 (Reuters) - Didier Drogba will make his final bow for Ivory Coast at a major tournament in Brazil but the west African country hope a new generation of strikers can drive them past the first round at the World Cup finals.
The 36-year-old Drogba has been a talismanic figure for his country, leading them to the last two World Cups and five successive African Nations Cup finals, but he is in the twilight of his career after scoring 62 goals in 100 appearances.
Drogba can no longer be assured of a berth in the starting line-up where the Ivorians can look to Swansea City's Wilfried Bony, instead, to lead the attack.
Salomon Kalou and Gervinho provide other options as the dependency on Drogba has dissipated over the past 18 months.
A seamless transition from an ageing generation of charismatic players, including Kolo Toure, brother Yaya and occasional captain Didier Zokora, to a group of emerging talents is what coach Sabri Lamouchi is hoping for in Brazil.
"A team that does not change does not evolve," he said in a recent Reuters interview.
Lamouchi says the Ivorians have set themselves a goal of advancing past the group stage, where their opponents are Colombia, Greece and Japan in Group C.
"The Ivory Coast have not done this before and after that, once you are in the knockout rounds, there is a feeling that all is possible."
They have a much better chance than in their two previous tournament appearances. They were eliminated after their first two matches in the 2006 finals in Germany, after going down to Argentina and the Netherlands, before beating Serbia.
In South Africa four years ago they drew against Portugal, lost to Brazil and beat North Korea but found four points not enough to progress.
Their consistent failures in the Nations Cup have earned the team a reputation as "chokers". They developed a habit of cruising through their early matches, before producing one ponderous performance to be eliminated in the knockout rounds.
Twice in the last five tournaments they have lost the African Nations Cup final on penalties.
But with modest ambitions in Brazil, and none of the pressure of being a fancied team, it could prove a successful swansong for Drogba and a successful introduction for players like Serge Aurier and Bony. (Editing by Robert Woodward and Mike Collett)
- Sports & Recreation
- Didier Drogba
- Ivory Coast