Published August 13, 2013
JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – There is a lot riding on the midweek New York friendly between Ivory Coast and Mexico for veteran Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba.
The 35-year-old was cast into the international wilderness after another Africa Cup of Nations campaign went horribly wrong last February.
Serial title favourites Ivory Coast fell to eventual champions Nigeria in the quarter-finals and Drogba became one of the fall guys.
Frenchman Sabri Lamouchi, the first coach in five consecutive Africa Cup tournament flops to survive, said the captain needed time out.
"We did not see the Didier we know at the Cup of Nations -- moving to China cost him fitness and form," explained the coach.
Discarded for 2014 World Cup qualifying wins over Gambia (twice) and Tanzania, Drogba was promised a chance of redemption.
And it comes at the MetLife Stadium against a Mexican side used to African opposition having drawn 2-2 with Nigeria recently.
A good showing from the dreadlocked 'Drog' and his dream of an international swansong at the World Cup in Brazil will be back on track.
But a poor showing will be a major setback as there is no shortage of young, ambitious Ivorian stars ready to step into his striking role.
Lamouchi, a surprise choice as coach given his total lack of experience, was giving nothing away on the Ivorian football federation website.
"Didier is happy to be back with us and eager to play for the national team and his country," said the handler.
Ivory Coast, Algeria and Egypt have secured three of the 10 World Cup play-offs places in Africa and they will all be in friendly action.
Algeria host Guinea, who welcome back AC Milan midfielder Kevin Constant from a 12-month self-imposed exile.
Constant said he was frustrated by the poor organisation of the national squad, and found it difficult to get on with some unnamed team-mates.
CAF Champions League commitments this weekend mean Egypt must do without the stars of Al-Ahly when they host improving Uganda in El Gouna.
The other seven play-offs slots will be filled early September after the final series of 20 qualifying fixtures.
A total of 16 countries are chasing those places and all except Botswana, Cameroon and Ethiopia are in action Wednesday.
Ghana face Turkey in Istanbul having called up goalkeeper Razak Braimah and midfielder Yusif Chibsah for the first time.
Nigeria lack star striker Emmanuel Emenike in Durban against South Africa, a team the 'Super Eagles' boast a good record against.
Emenike recently joined Turkish giants Fenerbahce and Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi accepts that the big goal poacher needs time to settle.
South Africa had to release six Orlando Pirates stars as the club prepare for a Champions League fixture with Egyptian visitors Zamalek.
English Premier League pair Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse were once seen as a 'dream' strike force among African national teams.
But French coach Alain Giresse axed Ba for mid-year World Cup qualifiers and has left Cisse out because he is barred from the final round.
Senegal did select AC Milan striker Mbaye Niang, but the ex-France under-21 star has done a u-turn after telling Giresse he was available.
The 'Teranga Lions' are in Paris to face Zambia, a team that has quickly slid from the heights of a shock 2012 Cup of Nations title.
Controversial caretaker coach Tom Saintfiet takes Malawi to Rwanda ahead of a September showdown in Nigeria.
The Belgian came to central Africa last month asking only for accommodation, transport and a $10,000 bonus if the team grounded the 'Eagles'.
But the squad, public and media objected to the amount in a cash-strapped country, forcing Saintfiet to say the money would be given to a charity.
Cape Verde and Gabon in Lisbon, Libya and Central African Republic in Tripoli, Morocco and Burkina Faso in Tangier and Tunisia and Congo in Rades complete the friendlies line-up.