FIFA RANK: 27
The game of soccer means so much to millions across the world, but in the Ivory Coast it literally means life or death.
Four years ago, the squad known as the White Elephants (If you haven't noticed by now, African teams have awesome nicknames) made its first World Cup and that act alone brought a cease fire to the country after five bloody years of civil war. Think about that for a second, combatant groups literally dropping their arms just to watch and embrace their countrymen compete in the beautiful game.
Leading the call for peace was one of the most popular players in the game, Didier Drogba. I'll throw my cards on the table, I'm a big Chelsea fan (whom Drogba plays for in England) and while many to most English fans other than Chelsea's don't like his antics on the field, you can't deny what he's meant for his country. He personally made a desperate plea for Ivory Coast's combatants to end their fighting and helped move a huge qualifying match to a rebel stronghold as a gesture of peace. Throw in the fact Time Magazine named him one of the worlds 100 Most Infuential People and you can see this isn't your run-of-the-mill soccer player.
But again, there are times when Drogba can lose his cool during a match. Believe me, I've seen it many times with Chelsea. Thankfully, the White Elephants enter the cup with easily the most talented team in Africa and one of the most talented teams in the world. Close to a dozen Elephants play club ball in either England, Spain or France. The names you should know other than Drogba are fellow Chelsea forward Solomon Kalou and the two rocks in the defense who also happen to be brothers, Kolo and Yaya Toure.
If it weren't for a bad draw in South Africa, I'd say the Ivory Coast would be a lock to advance to the second round, but with Brazil and Portugal standing in the way, I just don't feel too confident going there. This is the second straight World Cup the Ivory Coast has been drawn into a "Group of Death," but when you look at the big picture, this squad's recent success has actually saved thousands of lives and unified a country.
So you know what? I willl go there, Ivory Coast somehow, someway, makes the second round. Mark it down.
June 15 vs. Portugal - 9 a.m. CT (Old EPL rivals Drogba and Ronaldo meet again, this time playing for their countries)
June 20 vs. Brazil - 1:30 p.m. CT (Ivory Coast will be competitive, but Brazilians may be too much in the end)
June 25 vs. North Korea - 9 a.m. CT (Most likely a must win watch, may need to win big for goal differential purposes)
NEXT ON THE PITCH: SWITZERLAND