He played only 28 minutes, did not score a goal or make an assisting pass. But Didier Drogba still dominated the match and – well, except for Robin Van Persie’s airborne header – dominated the first four days of the World Cup.
There was something surreal about the way he raised his Ivory Coast team when he came into the match in the 62nd minute with Japan leading, 1-0, on Saturday night. He was out with a thigh injury – and advanced old age, at 36 – but he charged a lethargic and clueless squad just by stepping onto the field.
It was as if the Ivory Coast players said, “Uh-oh, the old man is out here. We’d better get in gear.” They started making intelligent runs and smart passes, and scored in the 64th and 66th minutes, both on crossing passes by Serge Aurier.
“There is no game in the world like that where a single sub changes the complexion of the game completely. Japan had their defensive concentration break down completely,” wrote my pal Doug From Florida, who knows this sport.
I had a stake in this, because I had written an advance article for Cigar Aficionado Magazine in which I had picked Drogba as one of the seven stars to watch during this World Cup. I had seen him carry Chelsea on his strong back in the Champions League final in 2012, his last match for Chelsea. He played the whole field that night, striker, sweeper, midfielder. I thought he could give Ivory Coast – the entire continent of Africa – a boost in this World Cup.
Soccer fans know that every World Cup consists of five distinctly different rounds – group play, round of 16, quarterfinals, semifinals and finals. Each one is separate and worthwhile. Nations have great matches in the first round (Algeria in 1982, Trinidad & Tobago in 2010) and vanish before the knockout round. But still, their fans have memories. Emerging fans in the USA would do well not to think about the latter stages. Enjoy Drogba in the here and now.
The world is still waiting for the great African team. The players are there, leading squads all over Europe, but the national teams that are collected for major tournaments often seem hit-or-miss, coached by Europeans, not quite ready for the late rounds. Still, there moments.
I picked Drogba to be a charismatic presence in this tournament because I remembered being in Italy in 1990, thrilled to see 38-year-old Roger Milla, who had already retired once, come off the bench for Cameroon, over and over again. The Russian coach waited until the sun went down over the lip of the stadium, and then sent in the elder. Milla carried Cameroon into the quarterfinals, first time Africa had been there. Here’s what I wrote, back then:
Now Drogba forces his teammates to play together. Don’t think about who is going to win this thing. Think about the first round. Ivory Coast vs. Columbia on Thursday. Two teams with 3 points already. At high noon. Drogba may not start. Then again, Roger Milla did not start, either.
(I will be writing after the USA match Monday evening.)
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.