Ivory Coast mums yearn for sons to finally succeed

ROBBIE COREY-BOULET Associated Press Published:

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) -- When Ivory Coast surprisingly trailed Egypt 1-0 early in its last warm-up game before the African Cup of Nations, a group of women trudged out to the driveway of a house back in Abidjan to pray. They'd seen this before.

They stayed there for over an hour, waiting nervously on the concrete near a garage until some children emerged from the house to tell them the game was over and the Ivorians -- their superstar sons -- won 4-2.

Relieved, the Ivorian mums picked themselves up and went inside again.

Few supporters have felt the pain of Ivory Coast's depressing recent experiences at the cup more than this team of mothers, who watch all their sons' matches together. The African Cup has come around again, bringing with it memories of previous agony.

"Ivorians are not discouraged. They like their team," said Alphonsine Zokora, the mother of midfielder Didier Zokora. "But they are just a little bit afraid. It is the same for us mothers."

There's been a run of heart-breaking late failures for them and their boys.

Since Clotilde Drogba, the mum of Ivory Coast captain Didier Drogba, and others formed The Friendship Association of Elephants' Mothers in 2005, the team has lost two finals at the African Cup on penalty shootouts -- including at the last tournament -- was knocked out in the semifinals at another, and crashed out in the quarterfinals of a fourth after being ahead with a minute to go.

It's enough to test even a mother's patience.

"When they lost the very last final, I fell down," Alphonsine Zokora said. "I tore my clothes. I could not believe what had happened. I was crying. I wanted them to replay the match because I could not accept this result."

Marie Ndri, mother of midfielder Romaric, didn't leave her house for days after the loss in a shootout to Zambia 12 months ago, to avoid hearing disappointed and demanding fans insulting her son.

"When people are insulting the Elephants (Ivory Coast's team) I just prefer to stay at home," she said.

These dedicated mums have done everything to help their desperate sons win the African title and end what's become an infamous cup curse for a team of big-name, Europe-based players.

Last year, before the gut-wrenching final against Zambia, millionaire forward Drogba's mum cooked traditional Ivorian food of rice and fish in a makeshift kitchen for fans ahead of a game at the tournament in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, giving them sustenance to support her son.

Days later in the final, Drogba missed a penalty in regular time that would have won the title.

At home, the hopeful mums have donated money and food to prisons, orphanages and religious leaders at churches and mosques to bring luck to the team. They also recorded a song a few years back.

"Shoot the ball! Shoot the ball! All of the mothers are counting on you!" Clotilde Drogba shouts to her son on the hit record as the mums play up the talents of their boys.

Zokora's mum sings: "No one can take the ball from his feet."

This year, most of the mums are staying at home; they're too old to travel to South Africa, they said. But they're preparing for more nervous days in front of the television and maybe back on the driveway of Alphonsine Zokora's posh three-story villa.

Favorite again, the team hopes to end a frustrating 20-year wait for the continental title in what's likely to be the last African tournament and very last chance for an international title for skipper Drogba.

"This will be their year," said Helene Kalou, the mother of striker Salomon Kalou.

A mother would say that.