The head of the organizing committee for the upcoming football World Cup in Germany, Franz Beckenbauer, has gone on a whirlwind tour of four first-time qualified sub-Saharan countries.
There was celebration in Togo earlier this year after its national team, known as the Eperviers, an eagle-like bird, qualified for the first time in its history. Similar scenes of joyous pandemonium took place in the three other first time qualifiers, Angola, Ghana and Ivory Coast.
Speaking to ambassadors, football officials and journalists at the residency of the German ambassador in Abidjan, Mr. Beckenbauer congratulated the team of Ivory Coast, known as the Elephants, for its qualification.
Thursday, he was in Ghana for similar congratulations for its team known as the Black Stars. "I think all Africans are waiting, also for them, for the Ghanaians, for Ivory Coast, for Togo, Angola, it's the first time they are participating in the World Cup, for them it's a new experience," said Mr. Beckenbauer. "But you see, all the best Africans they are playing on the best teams in Europe, you see like Drogba in Chelsea, or whatever - I could mention 50 names, so it's amazing how many talents the African players have."
Didier Drogba, the star forward of the English club Chelsea is the captain of the Ivory Coast team, and a symbol of hope in Ivory Coast still divided by civil war.
A top official of the Ivory Coast federation Sory Diabate says in Africa the passion for football can sometimes take precedence over everything else. "I think it's a very important day for us, for Cote d'Ivoire, because of the situation of our country as we've been qualified for the World Cup 2006," he said. "In Abidjan we saw what happened when we came from Khartoum, everybody celebrated this qualification."
"It's the first time for us to go to this competition," continued Mr. Diabate. "I think all the teams here, they are good teams, in the qualifiers, they did what they could to be qualified and now Brazil is top favorite, and Germany also, Argentina, also, but I think Spain, France, and all other teams can challenge the top favorites of this competition."
Mr. Beckenbauer has been to half of the qualified countries, and will now visit the remaining ones. The opening match for the group stage of the 32-team competition will be host, Germany, against Costa Rica June 9, with the final one month later.