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Five old-timers eyeing fitting send-offs

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DROGBA-IVORYLONDON, May 26 – Italy goalkeeper Dino Zoff had to wait until he was 40 to win the World Cup, proving that age is no barrier to success in the sport’s most prestigious competition.

Here are five players hoping to roll back the years and make an impact at this year’s tournament in Brazil:

Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast)

Born – March 11, 1978

For all the achievements of his glittering eight-year spell with Chelsea, two-time African Footballer of the Year Drogba, 36, has never tasted success on the international stage.

Captain of the Ivory Coast since 2006, Drogba scored his country’s first ever World Cup goal at that year’s tournament in Germany. But he has twice seen his side beaten on penalties in the Africa Cup of Nations final.

“Competing at the previous two (World Cup) tournaments was very difficult,” said the Galatasaray striker, whose side were hindered by unfavourable draws in 2006 and 2010.

“We have a realistic chance to do better in Brazil and get past the first round.” Drogba has scored more than 60 goals for his country.

Steven Gerrard (England)

Born – May 30, 1980

After a superb season in which he excelled in a new, deep-lying midfield organiser role with Liverpool, England captain Gerrard will attempt to put several years of international heartache behind him at almost certainly his last World Cup.

The Liverpudlian, who turns 34 this week, will be playing at his sixth major tournament. He has never previously got further than the quarter-finals though.

“It would be very stupid and naive of me to stand here and say we’re going to win it,” he said. “What I can guarantee is that we will go there and give 100 percent.”

Gerrard scored his first international goal in a 5-1 win over Germany and has scored 21 in 109 international appearances.

Miroslav Klose (Germany)

Born – June 9, 1978

Klose, 35, could not want for more motivation as he heads to Brazil for his last World Cup.

Already the only player to have scored at least four goals at three different tournaments, the spring-heeled Lazio striker needs just one goal to tie Ronaldo’s all-time goal-scoring record of 15.

“I can’t say that (the record) doesn’t interest me,” he admitted to Munich daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung recently. “I’m too ambitious for that, but the team always comes first.”

Klose has scored 68 goals in 131 appearanaces for Germany and needs just one more to become his country’s top all-time scorer.

Andrea Pirlo (Italy)

Born – May 19, 1979

PIRLO-AZZURIPirlo’s career appeared to be on the wane when he was allowed to leave AC Milan in 2011, but he has inspired Juventus to three successive Serie A titles.

It is now eight years since Pirlo played a pivotal role in Italy’s triumph at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, but although he is now 35, his extraordinary passing range and laser-guided set-piece ability still set him apart.

As the former Juventus midfielder Zbigniew Boniek once remarked: “To pass the ball to Andrea Pirlo is to hide it in a safe.” Has played 108 games for Italy with 13 goals.

Xavier ‘Xavi’ Hernandez (Spain)

Born – January 25, 1980

One of the architects of Spain’s consecutive successes at the 2008 European Championship, the 2010 World Cup, and the 2012 European Championship, 34-year-old Xavi will once again be the heartbeat of Vicente del Bosque’s side in Brazil.

After a season of disappointment with Barcelona, the player who incarnates the ‘tiki-taka’ passing style more than any other will be doubly determined to prove that reports of the demise of possession football have been greatly exaggerated.

Has played 130 games for Spain, scoring 13 goals.

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