RUSTENBURG (Reuters) - Didier Drogba still has ambitions of competing at the next World Cup but his chances of national team honours to add to a glittering array of club prizes are now surely over.
His hopes fizzled out in meek fashion on Sunday as the Ivory Coast were eliminated in the African Nations Cup, losing 2-1 to Nigeria in the Rustenburg quarter-final.
The defeat and the fact the next tournament is not until 2015 means the 34-year-old has failed to match the achievements of other African greats Roger Milla, Abedi Pele and Samuel Eto‘o who all won the Nations Cup.
Whenever the debate over the continent’s best player is raised, Nations Cup failure can now be held against him.
Drogba remains one, if not the best, of the African exports to Europe with his achievements in eight seasons at Chelsea marking him out.
He has scored in a record four FA Cup final victories, won the Premier League three times and English League Cup twice while he finished his time at the London club by securing them their first Champions League title last May.
Drogba, who turns 35 next month, has also been the catalyst for the elevation of the Ivorian national side to the top ranked team in Africa with 57 goals in 94 appearances.
He debuted for them in 2002 and played in their first World Cup finals in 2006 and again at the 2010 tournament in South Africa.
They have also been to the last five Nations Cup, where each time they have been fancied to add to their only previous title in 1992.
Dubbed the ‘golden generation’, Ivory Coast’s close-knit squad looked well-set each time through the group phase but then crashed out in the knockout stages.
Again this year, at Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace, the African title proved a bridge too far on a night when the lightning cracking in the distance as the game kicked off proved a portent of the shock to come.
Drogba’s influence was limited in the game against Nigeria and the new Galatasaray player’s role in the team could be coming to an end.
Ahead are six matches in World Cup qualifiers this year and hopes of playing in the 2014 finals in Brazil but Africa’s biggest prize will never be his.
Editing by Mark Meadows