LONDON, June 3 – Ivory Coast captain Didier Drogba plans to live up to his reputation as the man for the big occasion by out-gunning his rivals for the World Cup golden boot.Drogba is already well-established as Chelsea’s talisman on football’s grandest stages after his seventh goal in six cup final appearances clinched a 1-0 victory over Portsmouth in this season’s FA Cup final.
Now the 32-year-old striker believes he is capable of emulating those heroics with his country in South Africa.
Sven Goran Eriksson’s side have been drawn in a group which would make less confident players quake in their boots as they prepare to face five-time world champions Brazil and a serious title contender like Portugal.
But Drogba will lead the Ivory Coast into battle brimming with confidence after the best season of his life.
He finished ahead of Wayne Rooney as the Premier League’s top scorer with 29 goals thanks to a title-clinching hat-trick against Wigan on the final day of the season.
Six goals against Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool this season proved that even some of England’s best defenders were no match for Drogba at his ferocious best.
If he can continue that form over the next month, the Ivory Coast have a chance of ending Africa’s long wait for a first World Cup winner and Drogba is sure to be heading the tournament’s scoring charts.
"I really hope so. If we can get through the group stages, I think we have a very strong chance," Drogba said.
"It’s important that we do well as a nation, but if I can win the World Cup Golden Boot as well, then it would be amazing."
The likes of Rooney, Lionel Messi, Fernando Torres and Luis Fabiano are likely to light up the tournament with their own unquestionable talents, but few can match Drogba’s potent combination of muscular power and lethal finishing.
Not only is Drogba going into the World Cup bolstered by his role in Chelsea’s first ever Premier League and FA Cup double, but he also has the additional motivation of making amends for his last appearance in the global showpiece.
In 2006 in Germany, Drogba was hampered by a knee injury as the Elephants failed to qualify from a tough group which included Argentina, Holland and Serbia.
Drogba scored his side’s first ever World Cup finals goal in their defeat against Argentina, but he was suspended for the last group game and then coach Henri Michel admitted the striker’s lack of form had been instrumental in the the disappointing results.
That let-down was one of the few low point in a career which has steadily risen to ever greater heights since Drogba made his debut for French club Le Mans in 1998.
At one stage in his teenage years it seemed Drogba was heading for a life as an accountant but he signed his first professional contract with Le Mans at 21 and never looked back.
A move to Guingamp for a transfer fee of just 80,000 pounds in 2002 was the defining moment in Drogba’s development.
The Ivorian began to show flashes of the bruising style that now terrorises defenders across the world.
Marseille were impressed enough to sign Drogba in 2003 and he responded to the challenge of playing for one of France’s top clubs by scoring 19 goals in 35 appearances as the Stade Velodrome outfit reached the UEFA Cup final.
Drogba’s form had been noted by Jose Mourinho during a Champions League clash against his Porto team, so when the Portuguese coach took over at Chelsea in 2004 he had no hesitation paying 24 million pounds to sign the forward.
Mourinho’s hunch paid off spectacularly as Drogba overcame initial objections about his diving and proved perfect for the frenetic and physical Premier League.
His 16 goals helped clinch Chelsea’s first league title for 50 years as well as the League Cup.
Another title followed a year later and the FA Cup was won in 2007 by Drogba’s extra-time strike aganst Manchester United.
When Mourinho was forced out, Drogba wept tears of frustration as he said goodbye to a man he had come to regard as a father-figure, but he eventually refocused and the medals kept coming. Now he is targeting the greatest prize of all.