Ivory Coast

Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

Report: $100M Zaha tells Palace he’s ready to leave

Leave a comment

Wilfried Zaha feels he’s reached his potential at Crystal Palace, and has told the South London outfit he wants UEFA Champions League football.

Zaha, 26, has successfully rebuilt his reputation after failing to make an impact at Manchester United, and bagged a career-best 10 goals in Premier League play this season.

[ MORE: Derby County reaches playoff final ]

According to The Daily Mail, he’s told Palace he’s ready to leave Selhurst Park. The Eagles’ reportedly have a $100 million price tag on the Ivorian.

Zaha was one of three stars for Palace this season, joining youngster Aaron Wan-Bissaka and center midfielder Luka Milivojevic in successfully moving the Eagles out of another relegation fight.

If Palace sells Zaha, it would make it even more difficult to allow the 21-year-old Wan-Bissaka to leave the club. Wan-Bissaka was sensational and would’ve been in many Best XIs were it not for Trent Alexander-Arnold‘s amazing campaign for runners-up Liverpool.

What’s next for the Ivorian? Man City and Liverpool don’t seem to fit the bill, but any of the other contenders could fit the bill. And if it needs to be the Champions League, maybe the long-mentioned links to Spurs or Chelsea become a reality.

VIDEO: Wilfried Zaha returns home to the Ivory Coast

Leave a comment

Crystal Palace TV have put together a wonderful documentary as they went along with Wilfried Zaha who returned to his homeland in the Ivory Coast for the first time in 20 years.

[ LIVE: Stream every Premier League game

Zaha, 25, was born in the Ivory Coast but moved to the UK at the age of four and made his name at Crystal Palace before a big money move to Manchester United and then playing for the English national team in a friendly.

Zaha then made the decision to play for Les Elephants and is a hero in his homeland.

This season his return from injury has made a massive difference to Crystal Palace as Roy Hodgson’s side have put themselves within touching distance of climbing out of the bottom three, with Zaha’s trickery, late goals and driving runs a huge part of their recent success.

Wilfried Zaha: Coming Home, was filmed as the Ivory Coast had a key 2018 World Cup qualifier against Morocco which they then lost and thus failed to make the World Cup in Russia next summer.

Click play on the video above to get behind-the-scene access on Zaha’s journey back to his homeland.

Ranking the worst failures in World Cup qualifying

Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

So many high expectation nations missed the 2018 World Cup that a second-tier tournament is being bandied about, enough so that people are legitimately intrigued at the idea.

That begs the question: How did we get here? In some cases, sides missed the big dance due to wonky qualifying schedules. Others had tough draws and couldn’t rebound in a playoff. Another group just flat out flopped in red, white, and blue.

[ USMNT-PORTUGAL: Match recap | Player ratings ]

Who’s failure was most heinous? Let us count the ways, er, teams.

7) Netherlands — This is a nation that, like England, has overachieved so many times that neutrals expect more from them that, perhaps, is rational. Their domestic league is not what it once was, but finishing behind Sweden is a tough pill to swallow for a side which has been on the proverbial podium the past two World Cups and four times in its history.

6) Ivory Coast — Africa’s qualifying is brutal, but Les Elephants lost two of three home qualifiers and managed two scoreless draws away from home. In fact, the team was blanked thrice despite a unit with Gervinho, Salomon Kalou, Jonathan Kodija, and Wilfried Zaha. Yes, the nation is on a downswing, but still were the favorites to advance past Morocco.

5) Bosnia and Herzegovina — Perched atop the group for a decent period of qualifying, a loaded BNH side drew Greece home and away, lost in Cyprus, and lost at home to Belgium in a cycle which could’ve seen them make a deep run powered by Edin Dzeko, Sead Kolasinac, Asmir Begovic, and Miralem Pjanic.

4) Italy — The highest-ranked ELO team to miss the tournament, Italy had the misfortune of being drawn with Spain (and vice versa). Second-place there was no shame, but being unable to finish over two legs against Sweden may be understandable — Blågult only allowed nine goals in qualifying — but Gian Piero Ventura’s keeping Lorenzo Insigne out of the starting lineup will be questioned for a long, long time.

[ MORE: Arena’s baffling pregame comment ]

3) Chile — CONMEBOL qualifying is as difficult as any confederation, and probably the toughest. Still, La Roja was shutout in six of its nine away qualifiers, including losses to eighth place Ecuador and ninth place Bolivia. For a side with Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal to be blanked that many times? Brutal.

2) Ghana – At least the Ivory Coast finished second in its group! Ghana drew all three of its home matches, managing its only win at the Republic of Congo. That means Apparently the Black Stars couldn’t imagine a World Cup without the USMNT.

*1b) United States — With respect to the improving nature of CONCACAF, the confederation’s relative weakness and wildly forgiving Hex means the Bruce Arena’s men did as poorly as any decent nation in the world. To not even make a playoff is embarrassing, and the first leg of Honduras versus Australia lets you know all that’s needed about the quality of the lesser friends of CONCACAF.

*1a) Australia — The asterisks is important because the Socceroos dominated Honduras in the first leg only to not find a goal, and can still advance to the World Cup with a win at 4 a.m. ET in Sydney. But losing to Honduras after finishing behind Saudi Arabia on the weakness of handing Thailand one of its only two points of qualifying? Wooooof.

Didier Drogba announces plan to retire

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Didier Drogba‘s famous goal celebration will become a relic in 2018.

Drogba, 39, is still playing in the second-tier of North American soccer for the club he has an ownership stake in, Phoenix Rising FC.

The Ivorian forward released a statement on Tuesday confirming he plans to retire in 2018.

“Ah, do you want a scoop? I think next year will be my last season,” Drogba said. “At some point you have to stop. I need to have time for my other projects. It’s good to play, but at 39, it holds me back a bit.”

Drogba has ripped it up in the USL this season for Phoenix, scoring 10 goals in 14 appearances, with his goals including trademark free kicks and powerful finishes.

A Chelsea legend, Drogba won four Premier League titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups and a UEFA Champions League during his two stints at Stamford Bridge.

He is also the leading goalscorer in Ivory Coast’s history with 65 goals in 104 games and is the highest-scoring African player in Champions League history with 44 goals and the highest-scoring African player in PL history with 104 goals.

Drogba scored 164 goals in 381 appearances for Chelsea in all competitions and was influential in their first-ever European title success as he scored an equalizer to take the game to extra time and then scored the winning penalty kick against Bayern Munich in 2011-12.

The much-traveled forward also had spells at Le Mans, Guingamp, Marseille, Galatasaray, Shanghai Shenhua and Montreal Impact before landing at Phoenix for the twilight of his career where he became as much an ambassador for the club than a player.

It has long been suggested that Drogba will become part of Chelsea’s staff behind-the-scenes given his close friendship with Russian owner Roman Abramovich.

Whatever he does after he stops playing, Drogba’s legacy as one of the greatest strikers the game has ever seen will be intact. Even if many people didn’t know he was still playing in the USL for the past few seasons…

Morocco, Tunisia grab last CAF World Cup spots

Leave a comment

Morocco has qualified for its first World Cup since 1998 with a resounding 2-0 defeat of Cote d’Ivoire.

The visitors in Abidjan came into the match a point ahead of the hosts, meaning they needed just a draw to secure qualification, but instead they left no doubt. Despite missing Manchester United defender Eric Bailly due to yellow card suspension, Morocco used a pair of first-half goals to advance.

Both first-half goals came in quick succession. The first came on 25 minutes in spectacular fashion, as Fenerbahce winger Nabil Dirar sent in what appeared to be a cross into the area for Khalid Boutaib, but as Boutaib whiffed on his attempt at a header and left Ivory Coast goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo remained indecisive, Dirar’s ball tucked inside the far post for the opening goal.

Just five minutes later, Gbohouo’s error on a corner led to Morocco’s second. As Mbark Boussoufa sent in a pinpoint delivery, Gbohouo attempted to charge down the corner to collect. Before the ball arrived, the goalkeeper inexplicably bailed out of his charge and attempted to retreat to his net. That left Juventus defender Medhi Benatia all alone to whack the ball into the back of the net.

Tunisia also qualified, albeit less gracefully. Coming into the final matchday with a three-point lead over Group A rivals DR Congo, the Tunisians drew 0-0 with Libya to earn the necessary point required. It was nervy down the stretch, as DR Congo was leading Guinea at both 1-0 and then 2-1 to put pressure on, but Tunisia held on for qualification. Congo won 3-1 but it was in vain.