A place in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals will be the prize this evening as Chelsea and Galatasaray resume their tussle following a 1-1 first-leg stalemate. An enthralling contest surely lies in store, and central to the intrigue will be the rivalry between Samuel Eto'o and Didier Drogba, two of African football's most iconic talents.
FIFA.com takes a closer look at the respective merits of the two strikers as they gear up for a meeting that has captured the imagination of football fans across Africa.
Spotted and snapped up by Real Madrid at the age of 15 in 1996, Eto'o never managed to convince Los Merengues of his potential, and he was loaned out to Leganes in 1997 before being allowed to join Mallorca three years later. The Cameroonian marksman's goalscoring acumen nonetheless caught Barcelona's eye in 2004, and he went on to spend five trophy-laden years in Catalonia, ahead of a similarly prolific and successful spell at Inter Milan. With a superb tally of honours under his belt by the time he was 30, he then felt comfortable enough to quit the limelight for Russian outfit Anzhi Makhachkala in 2011, but two years later he was back leading the line for a major European club after answering Chelsea's call.
Stamford Bridge, of course, is where Drogba carved out his own shimmering reputation, the Côte d'Ivoire legend spending eight extraordinary years with the Blues between 2004 and 2012. Drogba actually came to the professional game relatively late, launching his career aged 20 with Le Mans, and he was still playing in the French second division at 24, before moving to Guingamp and then exploding onto the scene with Marseille in 2003/04. Still a heroic figure to OM fans despite his brief one-year stay, he left France for Chelsea and later spent a short stint with Shanghai Shenhua in China PR, returning to Europe to defend the colours of Galatasaray in January 2013.
He may well have forgotten it himself, but Eto'o began amassing honours during his Madrid days, with his name featuring on the list of victorious players in the Champions League final of 2000. However, the 33-year-old played a far more active role in his two Champions League triumphs with Barcelona and his repeat success while at Inter, not to mention his four domestic league crowns, a quartet of domestic cups, three Super Cups, the FIFA Club World Cup, two CAF Africa Cup of Nations wins and his Olympic gold.
Few players can come close to matching that staggering list, but Drogba is no slouch when it comes to silverware either. Since joining Galatasaray alone, he has clinched the Turkish league and Turkish Super Cup, adding to a rich collection already featuring two Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two English League Cups and the Champions League.
Many a defender has been given a sleepless night by both these goal machines, with Eto'o boasting an incredible 300 goals from 603 competitive club encounters, compared to 256 strikes in 579 club outings for Drogba. Add in the Cameroonian stalwart's 55 efforts in 112 international matches, plus his Ivorian rival's 63 goals from 99 appearances, and it is easy to see why both have serious claims to being recognised as the greatest striker in the history of African football.
Drogba can also point to a pair of titles as Premier League top scorer, with Eto'o winning the Pichichi race just once in Spain, but the Indomitable Lion can rightly pride himself on being the all-time leading marksman in the Africa Cup of Nations. Unsurprisingly, both men stand at the top of the goal charts for their respective nations – and just as remarkable has been their knack of hitting the target when the stakes are high.
Indeed, Drogba has registered in ten different finals, most recently scoring for Galatasaray against Fenerbahce in the Turkish Super Cup and notching the equaliser and winning penalty in the 2012 Champions League decider versus Bayern Munich. Before that, he got his name on the scoresheet four times in as many FA Cup finals and matched that feat in four separate League Cup showpieces. Just as decisive under pressure, Eto'o has likewise tended to leave his mark on the big occasions, pouncing in the 2006 and 2009 Champions League finals, the Olympic gold-medal game in 2000, and scoring for both Mallorca and Inter in domestic cup deciders.
The honour of being the most prolific African player in Champions League history goes to Drogba, meanwhile, with his 42 efforts – five with Marseille, 34 for Chelsea and three with Galatasaray – putting him 11th on the overall list. He has rustled the net ten more times than Eto'o in Europe's most prestigious club competition, the Cameroonian contributing two goals for Mallorca, 18 for Barcelona, ten with Inter and two for Chelsea. Those achievements helped earn the duo six of the eight African Footballer of the Year awards bestowed between 2003 and 2010, Eto'o being singled out four times (2003, 2004, 2005 and 2010) and Drogba two (2006 and 2009).
Pitted together during qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, Eto'o enjoyed the upper hand in the two meetings with his Ivorian counterpart. The Cameroon talisman broke the deadlock in a 2-0 success against Côte d'Ivoire in July 2004, and although Drogba helped himself to a double in the return fixture the following September, the Indomitable Lions left Abidjan savouring a 3-2 triumph. Still, despite those results, it was Drogba who went on to savour the last laugh, his side booking a berth in Germany as Cameroon were held to a damaging draw in the final round of games.
A few months previously, the pair had also gone head to head in the last 16 of the Champions League. Drogba was sent off for Chelsea as Eto'o's Barcelona edged the opening leg 2-1 – and there is no prize for guessing who fired the decisive goal. Eto'o's joy was short-lived, however, as the Blues ultimately progressed despite Drogba sitting out the return game through suspension.
The rivalry between the two players then resumed in 2006, during a memorable quarter-final at the Africa Cup of Nations. The match went to penalties at the end of a 1-1 draw, and although both men converted their initial spot kicks, they were obliged to face the goalkeepers once again at 11-11 in the shoot-out. This time, Eto'o cracked, sending the ball sailing high over the crossbar, which handed Drogba a chance to send the Elephants into the last four. He duly buried his attempt to seal victory.
Their paths crossed again later the same year as Chelsea and Barcelona locked horns in the Champions League Round of 16, and Eto'o wreaked vengeance courtesy of a goal in the first leg. The Catalan giants emerged 3-2 victors on aggregate, and they also came out on top during the semi-finals in 2009. Neither player found the net on that occasion, but Drogba certainly left an impression, picking up a red card after the tie had finished for letting his emotions get the better of him.
Lastly, in 2010, Eto'o's Inter came up against Chelsea in another Round of 16 contest. Having posted a 2-1 home success that left the outcome in the balance, I Nerazzurri travelled to west London and sealed their advance with a 1-0 victory, Eto'o grabbing the goal and Drogba heading for an early shower after another dismissal.
Have your say
Both players are genuine icons of the African game, but who deserves to be considered the greatest? Taking into account their respective talents, achievements and personalities, are you in the Eto'o camp or do you side with Drogba? Let us know your thoughts below.