Best African National Teams of the 2000s: #9

In this series Michael McDuffie ranks the ten best African national teams of the century. Coming in 9th place is…

Côte d’Ivoire’s team at the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations.

The mid to late 2000s saw a star-studded Ivory Coast begin to push for relevance in the African game. Their 2006 squad, managed by Frenchman Henri Michel, featured both Kolo and Yaya Touré as well as Didier Drogba, the foundation of the side for years to come.

In Group A, Les Éléphants started strong, with victories over Morocco and Libya, as Drogba scored in both matches with Yaya Touré securing a 2-1 win over the latter opponent. Their final group game saw them fall to hosts Egypt 3-1 in a match that would ultimately be a preview of the final.

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Six points out of nine were enough for Ivory Coast to advance to the quarterfinals. Their quarterfinal matchup against Cameroon finished 0-0 after 90 minutes, but extra time goals from Bakari Koné and Cameroon’s Albert Meyong came within just three minutes of each other and sent the match to penalties. In a gut-wrenchingly long shootout, Ivory Coast won 12-11 as Drogba scored two spot kicks and Samuel Eto’o failed to convert number 12 for Cameroon.

Les Éléphants then defeated Nigeria 1-0 in the semifinals in a much more conventional match, with Drogba scoring the lone goal early in the second half to set up a rematch against Egypt.

In front of 80,000 in Cairo, a cagey match ended 0-0 through 90 minutes as well as extra time. The match went to penalties, where Egypt won in front of their home crowd, 4-2. The run to the final ended in disappointing fashion, beginning a cycle of talented Ivory Coast teams relatively underachieving for the next decade in CAF competition, not winning a title until 2015.