Despite having never made it beyond the group stage at their two previous FIFA World Cup™ appearances, Côte d’Ivoire are nevertheless considered one of Africa’s strongest teams and are the continent’s highest-placed side in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, currently occupying 21st place.
Coach Sabri Lamouchi presides over a star-stacked squad, with players in leading roles at some of Europe’s biggest clubs. The Toure brothers, Kolo and Yaya, help to give the side a solid defensive backbone alongside Emmanuel Eboue, while Salomon Kalou and Didier Drogba - arguably Africa’s best striker - are a constant menace in attack.
Yet for every household name a team also requires the kind of player happy to stay out of the limelight whilst willing to give their all for the collective good. One such player for Côte d’Ivoire is left-back Arthur Boka from Bundesliga outfit Stuttgart.
The 31-year-old is among the more seasoned members of the Elephants’ side and relishes the added responsibility that brings, as he told FIFA.com: “I’m one of the most experienced players and it’s very important to me to help the younger guys and take some of the pressure off them. I’d like to pass on my experience.”
The newcomers would do well to listen, as Boka has been involved in each of the country’s World Cup campaigns so far, playing in four of their six matches. Côte d’Ivoire were not handed the kindest of draws at either tournament, however, finishing third in their group both times after being pitted against Argentina, the Netherlands and Serbia and Montenegro in 2006, and Brazil, Portugal and Korea DPR in 2010.
In Brazil we’re going to show the world what we can really do. This time we’re going to make it.
Those early eliminations notwithstanding, the diminutive left-footer has fond World Cup memories. “We played against some great teams,” he recalled. “It was a fantastic time and we went close [to reaching the knockout rounds]. That has helped us prepare for the forthcoming World Cup.”
The experience gained from previous tournaments has filled Boka with optimism ahead of Brazil 2014. He is confident Côte d’Ivoire have improved in recent years and that they will progress from Group C, where they were drawn against Colombia, Greece and Japan: “They are very good teams but we have a great chance. We’ve got excellent players in our squad and we know what we’re capable of as a team. In Brazil we’re going to show the world what we can really do. This time we’re going to make it.”
The ace in the west Africans’ pack is Drogba, a long-time team-mate of Boka’s in the national set-up and with whom he won runners-up medals at the 2006 and 2012 editions of the Africa Cup of Nations. Boka describes the Galatasaray forward as a “great guy” who has remained grounded despite his extraordinary success, and views Drogba as crucial to the side’s fortunes in Brazil due to his ability to “lift the whole team”.
Shifting focusBoka will embark on a new chapter in his career after the World Cup having agreed to join Spanish club Malaga following eight years at Stuttgart, where he won the Bundesliga title in 2007. “I’ve really felt at home here,” he said. “I’m sad to be leaving Stuttgart but life goes on.”
His last season in Swabia was a challenging one, with the side only securing their top-flight status for another year on the penultimate matchday of the campaign. Staving off relegation was vital for Boka with a view to Brazil 2014 because it gave him the peace of mind to focus his attentions on the national team’s cause.
Boka’s tireless displays and ironclad will to win were priceless to Stuttgart’s survival and he is keen to demonstrate those qualities in South America in a few weeks. Moreover, he is aware “that this could be my last World Cup. I want to show everybody one more time that I’m a good player.”
He believes the host country offers the perfect stage for him to do just that and is already looking forward to experiencing the tournament in a nation that lives for the game. Asked for his favourites to take the title, Boka did not hesitate in naming Brazil as frontrunners, before adding that Germany, Argentina and Portugal were also well equipped to lift the trophy.
Boka said he would not be shocked if “there was a surprise” at the competition but refused to be drawn as to which nation he believes could cause an upset. However, the smile on his face and confident undertone to his voice made it abundantly clear who he had in mind.