Two-time African Soccer Player of the Year Didier Drogba has been left out of the Ivory Coast squad preparing for World Cup soccer qualifiers against Gambia and Tanzania next month.
The 35-year-old striker, who led Galatasaray to its record 19th Turkish league title last month, was also overlooked for a World Cup qualifier against Gambia last March.
Drogba, who is the Ivory Coast’s all-time leading goal scorer with 60 goals in 95 appearances, struggled during this year’s African Cup of Nations.
“Drogba is a huge player with a bigger status than any other player, but he has had a difficult last eight months and he needs to work,” said coach Sabri Lamouchi. “He needs to get back to his competitive standards.”
Ivory Coast plays Gambia on the road on June 8 and Tanzania eight days later in Dar es Salaam.
The West African team leads its World Cup qualifying group by one point.
Meantime, the Confederation of African Soccer has announced that qualifiers for the 2015 African Cup of Nations will take place over three months next year. It means 144 matches, involving 48 countries in 12 groups of four, will be squeezed in between September and November. The schedule has been designed to fit with the International Soccer Federation (FIFA) match calendar.
It’s the first time that qualifiers have been arranged around the World Cup since the Nations Cup was switched from even to odd years. A weekend match will be followed by a midweek game in three periods set aside by FIFA, with clubs obligated to release their players for international duty for the duration.
The dates are September 1-9, October 6-14 and November 10-18.
Namibia Soccer Association president John Muinjo believes the schedule is too demanding.
“Playing six international games in three months is hard on the health of the players,” he said. “Also, some federations do not have the financial resources to afford for their teams to travel in speed and comfort over long distances in such a short space of time. The smaller countries are going to be affected.”
At the end of the group phase, the winners of each group and the top three runners-up will advance to the final phase of qualification which Morocco hosts from January 17 to February 7 next year.
The Nations Cup qualification preliminary round featuring up to 12 of the lowest ranked African sides in two-legged play-offs will be held in July and August.