Didier Drogba changed his attire midway through Thursday night's Confederation of African Football awards, almost as to if to symbolise his elevation to a new-found status as the continent's top player.

Drogba received the 2006 African Footballer of the Year award in traditional robes as he narrowly edged Samuel Eto'o to the highly sought-after individual prize. In the 2005 poll, Eto'o had beaten off the Ivorian striker by just two votes; this time the tables were turned as Drogba managed a narrow five point margin over the Cameroonian.

Under a shower of shimmering paper, Drogba strode on stage at Accra's Convention Centre with a multi coloured headscarf and an imperious walking staff, resplendent with a carved elephant at the head of the stick to symbolise his Ivorian roots.

It was as captain of Cote d'Ivoire's Elephants that he enjoyed among his best moments in 2006, taking the side to the final of the African Nations Cup in Egypt and helping them to make a marked impression at the FIFA World Cup finals in Germany.

Earlier in the night, Drogba had arrived with his Chelsea team mate Michel Essien in a dark formal suit as both went on stage to accept a certificate as members of the best African XI announced earlier at the gala ceremony.

Essien finished third in the voting for the African Footballer of the Year award for a second successive year, much to the disappointment of a parochial Ghanaian audience.

Another tight race
He received 36 votes from the 35 African national team coaches who participated in the poll.  It was just under half of the 79 votes for Drogba and the 75 that Eto'o received in a tight contest that mirrored the tussle between the two strikers for the 2005 award.

On that occasion, in Abuja, Nigeria, Eto'o won by just two votes. The two then crossed paths again at the Cup of Nations in Egypt where Drogba's side beat Eto'o's Indomitable Lions after the Barcelona striker missed the decisive kick in the post-match shootout.

Drogba and Eto'o both made it to the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League with their clubs towards the end of last season but while Chelsea lost out on a place in the final, Eto'o went on to score a goal as Barcelona beat Arsenal in the final at the Stade de France in Paris.

Just days earlier, both had again won league honours; Drogba with Chelsea for a second successive year as was the case with Eto'o in Spain. However, while Drogba then went off to the FIFA World Cup finals and another sterling showing, Eto'o had to be content with watching from the sidelines, Cameroon having failed to qualify.

Then in the second half of the year, Eto'o battled with a knee injury while Drogba set off on a scoring spree in the English league and early stages of the UEFA Champions League. It was a spell of hot form that proved decisive for the voters in making a tough choice between two worthy candidates.

Drogba, who arrived with Essien from London on a private jet for a stay of less than 24 hours, denied Eto'o a chance to make it a record fourth successive award win.