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Sport

Eto'o, Drogba fuel African hopes

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Sectarianism, parochialism and the likes are never to be encouraged in our times but when Samuel Eto'o says, "I am an African first before I am Cameroonian", it brings with it a distinct ring of that famous Fidel Castro aphorism: "I am first a revolutionary, then a communist."

Both comments come from a deep-rooted, almost atavistic belief that germinated and took shape through the journey of their lives. All the more reason the World Cup in South Africa will not just be a quadrennial tournament showcasing the soccer talents of the planet. It will be much more than just a few games in the African continent and Eto'o makes the point succinctly. In this showcasing of Africa, it will be Eto'o and his Ivorian counterpart Didier Drogba who will be the standard-bearers. Currently, they are the 'Hollywood heroes' of African footballing identity, as symbolically powerful as Sidney Poitier was to Black America.

They are the best in their trade, which is scoring goals, going by current trends. Didier Drogba is the top-scorer of the recently-concluded English Premier League and the Cameroonian is the all-time highest scorer of the African Nations Cup. Both will be leading their teams in South Africa, maybe in the venerable presence of Nelson Mandela.

For the whole of Africa and coloured folks across the world, it will be the pivotal moment of the tournament. Posterity may look at it as another huge step out of darkness after the abolition of Apartheid.

Eto'o has seen the dark side during his time in Spain. Monkey chants by Zaragoza fans made him almost walk off the pitch. His Barcelona teammates somehow managed to restrain him, but the Cameroonian lion has never shied away from speaking out against racism. The hurt went so deep, Eto'o had stopped bringing his children to games when he was in Spain.

"It is something that has affected me personally. I think players, leaders, and the media have to join forces so that no one feels looked down upon because of the colour of their skin. At this moment in time I prefer that my children don't go to football matches. In the stands they have to listen to things that are difficult to explain to a child. It is better they aren't exposed to it," he had said.

If Eto'o has voiced his protest over racism, Drogba is busy building hospitals in his native country. In 2007, the United Nations Development Programme appointed the Chelsea striker as goodwill ambassador.
The leading lights may be working individually to uplift the image of Africa but as players they are like chalk and cheese.

Eto'o spent most of his time spearheading the silky-smooth attack of Barcelona, where a simple tapin was all he was asked to do after a 20-pass move. It did in no way blunt his predatory instincts or his panther-like pace and alertness. Still Eto'o is more of style and less of brawn, very unlike Drogba.

The Ivorian is, perhaps, the sole-surviving member of a fast-disappearing species called centre-forward, operating between two huge centre-backs . Drogba's strength is his forte and he would rather bulldoze through than dribble past.

The Cameroonian would rather avoid comparisons with Drogba apart from their African identity and pride. "I don't compare my style with Didier. He is another great African player, who does good things for Africa. On the contrary, we get on well and both of us help to define Africa's image," he told a website.

"I believe that it is a shame that people try and compare us with each other, but, it's not the Africans doing it, because we, the Africans, we have to protect those who present the image - or those who promote Africa's image in Europe, like Didier, Michael Essien and lots of others such as myself."

The African World Cup will be more of an imagebuilding exercise for Eto'o and Drogba, the brilliant sons of the continent, carrying the torch far and wide. The time has come to display in abandon their supreme athletic talent and extract maximum appreciation from every corner of the globe.

"It is an honour for me to play all the time in African stadia," Eto'o had said. "I believe that my dearest, dearest dream is always to return. Every time I go away, I tell myself 'Samuel, when will you come back?' And every time I come back, I really enjoy it.

"We are all united, we are all African, whether we are from Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ghana etc. And I hope that this spirit will continue into the World Cup, because in our World Cup an African country needs to progress as far as possible, to be able to win the Cup.

"I would like it to be Cameroon, but it could be another African country, because I am African before I am Cameroonian."

Let's salute the lions of Africa!

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