Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana will be the two nations representing the West African region at the World Cup 2010 in South Africa. For the first time, the World Cup will be hosted on African soil and therefore will provide tremendous incentives for African nations to excel on the brightest of stages.
For better or for worse, the World Cup has indeed become one of the most anticipated global events and the epitome of an increasingly globally connected world.
At the World Cup, football players wear their patriotism on their sleeve and sometimes, for famed photographer Annie Leibowitz, on their underwear.
Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana's two brightest stars, Dider Drogba and Michael Essien (featured in the aforementioned photo spread) are teamates for Chelsea Football Club in the English Premier League. The two stars have also joined forces in the past in producing a rap single against racism and are often seen celebrating together with humorous dance moves. The obvious affinity between the two players is not always reflected in the relations between the two countries that had seen some ups and downs throughout history and the relations are again being tested lately because of a disagreement over ownership of offshore oil fields.
A complex neighborly relationship
Blogger Nana Akyea Mensah explains that the two countries need to clear out some of the border dispute that were raised over the offshore oil region:
We need a clear border agreement, which we still do not have. As a South African friend of mine once said: “Trust is good, but control is necessary!” [..] I want to see all this political goodwill expressed clearly and transparently in a deal within these three months! Whilst all well-meaning Ivorians and Ghanaians must join in this spirit of camaraderie we must all insist on concrete issues
Ivoirediaspo blog also highlights that the tension between Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire is mostly over offshore oil (fr):
Pourquoi la Côte d’Ivoire n’aurait-elle pas sa part de gâteau pétrolier? Et tant pis si ça perturbe momentanément les relations de bon voisinage avec le Ghana [..] Problème : la frontière maritime entre les deux voisins n’a jamais été formellement établie, même si ceux-ci respectent depuis les indépendances une « ligne médiane »
An epic final match at the 1992 African Cup of Nations
The rivalry on the pitch is also growing in intensity. The apex of the grudge was probably reached at a memorable African Cup final in 1992 when the final verdict in favor of the Ivorians came after a historical 11-10 penalty shot-out:
Solidarity with Togo during the 2010 African Cup of Nations tragedy.
The strong ties between the two teams and neighbor Togo were on display at the African Cup of Nations in 2010 in Angola when both teams considered withdrawing from the competition after the Togolese team bus came under fire in Cabinda. They eventually carried on after the Togolese team, who were eventually disqualified in a controversial decision, asked them to keep on playing.
Togo has now been reinserted in the African Cup of Nations. Ghanasoccernet points out that Ghana deserve some credits for this development:
This is a resounding victory for Ghana president John Evans Atta Mills and his deputy John Mahama who had had confronted Hayatou over the issue two months ago.
Socially Conscious Players
The reality that football is sometimes “much more than football”, especially for the African Continent, is not lost on the Ivorian and Ghanaian players. Players from both teams have used their unique positions of public figures to advance important social issues. beside the aforementioned song against racism, players can be seen in these videos using social media platforms to increase awareness against Malaria and lack of education:
Côte d'Ivoire Players vs No Education
Ghanaian players vs Malaria
The expectation will be sky-high for both countries back home as representatives of the West African Region. If they both can advance far enough to face each other in the knock-out round, we might have the making of another formidable football drama, just like in the 1992 match.