His country's captain and primary source of goals, Didier Drogba has already won his first battle at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ simply by taking to the field for Côte d'Ivoire.
Though his involvement in the showpiece was cast in doubt by surgery on his fractured arm on 5 June, Drogba appears to be winning the race to be fit enough to display his full range of talents in South Africa. He featured for nearly half an hour in the Elephants' opener with Portugal and the Chelsea marksman is now expected to start against Brazil at Soccer City on Sunday. He was Côte d'Ivoire's six-goal top scorer in qualifying but it is at the main event that he intends to leave the most lasting impression and ahead of the mouth-watering meeting with Brazil, he spoke exclusively with FIFA.
FIFA: Didier, your team-mate Romaric explained to us last month that when the Elephants underperform, you are always the scapegoat. Does that hurt you or make you more motivated?
Didier Drogba: Honestly, it's not a problem for me. As captain, I now represent this team, so it's not illogical that I become the centre of attention – particularly when things go badly. I'm the charismatic leader of the national team, so there's nothing strange about it. But still, I'd add that when we fail, we fail as a team.
Did the collective discipline on display against Portugal come from the team taking responsibility for itself or from Sven-Goran Eriksson?
It's the work of Eriksson, who has instilled that sense of responsibility in us that you mentioned. Within the squad, we've felt the same general desire to outdo ourselves that we felt after qualifying for the 2006 World Cup. The coach has been able to encourage that very positive attitude.
Is this Côte d'Ivoire side better than the Germany 2006 team?
Yes, because we've learned our lessons. We have a real collective identity and we see a lot clearer where we want to go. We know what we have to do and how to do it. We've got more experience too, both individually and as a team. Each player has been through more at club level and the squad has become stronger mentally than four years ago. We've now got more history together.
Will you be 100 per cent fit for Sunday?
I think everyone saw that I gave the best of myself against Portugal. As soon as I went out on the pitch, I forgot about my injury and the pain. I'm afraid of nothing and I feel really good both physically and mentally. I'm happy to be here and playing football.
You once said that Nelson Mandela had a huge influence on your life. It must be a special feeling to now be playing in his homeland.
It's an immense honour to be here, really. At school, I was taught about the history of South Africa, the apartheid period and the role Nelson Mandela played for African people in general. I'm extremely proud to be here and to have had the chance to meet him and talk with him.
Time Magazine listed you as one of the 100 most influential people on the planet, in particular due to your impact on Côte d'Ivoire during the civil war. What did you make of that?
It's difficult to speak about myself, especially on that subject. I do everything in my power to serve my country and the African continent on the whole. I try to represent them as best I can and that's important. But, of course, to be on the Time list made me immensely proud and was an exceptional experience.
Was it also a little bit surreal?
I don't know, even the messages we sent pleading for an end to the civil war were very important. I think people don't realise the impact football has on the world – it's enormous. To be a well-known player and have the possibility of being listened to when you speak is very important.