On October 8, 2005, Ivory Coast slugged it out to qualify for their first ever FIFA World Cup scheduled to be hosted then in Germany.
After defeating Sudan, the Elephants of Ivory Coast waited anxiously to learn if Cameroon had failed to achieve victory over Egypt, a scenario which would see the Ivorians’ wildest dreams come true.
With the score 1-1, Cameroon were awarded an injury-time penalty and it looked as if Ivory Coast would be absent from football’s biggest tournament once again.
However, Pierre Wome missed his effort from the spot, securing World Cup qualification for the Ivorians.
Unsurprisingly, the Ivory Coast team celebrated outlandishly, but talisman Didier Drogba quickly turned his attention to the civil war that had raged in his country since 2002.
In a passionate speech after the victory over Sudan, Drogba said, according to BBC: “Men and women of Ivory Coast. From the north, south, centre, and west, we proved today that all Ivorians can coexist and play together with a shared aim – to qualify for the World Cup.
“We promised you that the celebrations would unite the people – today we beg you on our knees.”
The players then fell to their knees as Drogba added: “The one country in Africa with so many riches must not descend into war. Please lay down your weapons and hold elections.”
After the speech, the players rose and sang: “We want to have fun, so stop firing your guns!”
Drogba’s actions effected dramatic change in the country’s social and political climate. The video clip of his speech was played day and night on Ivorian television and eventually, it moved the two warring sides to the negotiating table, where a ceasefire was signed.
Following the Ivorian’s feature in the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Drogba sealed his call for peace the following year as he announced that the national team’s game against Madagascar on June 3rd, 2007, was to be played in the rebel stronghold of Bouake in the north of the country.
Drogba was from the south, so it was an attempt to the unite the nation – and that’s exactly what happened.
The Chelsea legend scored Ivory Coast’s final goal in a 5-0 victory, sparking jubilant scenes across the entire country.
Drogba, as the national team’s leader and spokesperson, had helped bring peace to his country, albeit temporarily.
But it’s important that we never forget how Drogba and his Ivorian teammates gave their country hope during its darkest hour.