Sunday last saw the Ivory Coast claim their first African Cup of Nations title since 1992. The Ivorians came out on top in a penalty shoot out showdown with Ghana.
Custodian Boubacar Barry scored the ninth and decisive spot kick in a thriller of a shoot out which saw 17 penalties struck between the two sides, to send the Western African nation into mass celebrations.
Skipper Yaya Toure went on to say:
When you win with your club, it’s quite amazing. With your country, it’s unbelievable.
While it was keeper, Boubacar Barry and captain fantastic, Yaya Toure making the headlines, one important man was well and truly overshadowed by the glory. Vice captain and brother of Yaya, Kolo Toure.
The nation of the Ivory Coast were far too busy celebrating the win to recall that Sunday’s final was indeed Kolo Toure’s final ever appearance for his country.
Before the tournament commenced, the 33-year-old Liverpool centre back announced that he would be retiring from international football at the tournament’s conclusion.
It is very fair to say that Kolo enjoyed a wealthy international career and went out with a huge bang and on the high of his life. Sunday last marked the end of an era for both Kolo and the Ivory Coast national squad.
At the beginning of the millennium, Kolo Toure earned his inaugural cap for the Ivory Coast when he appeared against Rwanda. Little did people know at the time, a star had been born. Toure would become a mainstay in the heart of the Ivory Coast’s line of defence for the next 15 years to follow.
In 2002, Toure featured in his first competitive tournament. Kolo and the Ivory Coast embarked on an African Cup of Nations journey. The Ivorians went into the tournament looking to improve on their 2000 showing in the same tournament.
Ivory Coast finished third in their group and failed to reach the knock out stages of the first AFCON of the new millennium.
Unfortunately, 2002 was not much better for Kolo and co, in fact it was much worse. Ivory Coast failed to win a single game as they finished bottom of a group containing, a red hot Cameroon side, DR Congo and Togo.
It was far from the best start to competitive international football for a 21-year-old Kolo Toure. Things went from bad to worse that year.
The Ivory Coast failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup, meaning Toure would have to wait until Germany in 2006 to get his first taste of international football on the world stage.
If things were bad in 2002, they were even worse in 2004. Kolo and his beloved home nation failed to even qualify for the 2004 competition. On the bright side for Toure, at least he won the Premier League title that year as a member of the Arsenal “Invincibles” squad.
However, 2006 was a pretty hectic year on the international front for Ivory Coast. It all began at the African Cup of Nations. The Ivorians put their miseries of the previous three tournaments behind them as they reached the final.
A penalty shoot out strike from Toure himself was not enough to win the crown for his country, as Coast lost out 4-2 to host nation, Egypt in spot kicks. Toure had featured in five games throughout that tournament.
Later that same year, Kolo experienced his first ever FIFA World Cup. The destination was Germany and the Ivory Coast were looking to advance past the group stages of the world’s greatest event for the first time ever.
The Ivorians were up against it as they found themselves mixed in with Argentina, Netherlands and Serbia and Montenegro. Toure featured in all three group matches as the Ivory Coast bowed out in third place in the group.
It was 2008 which meant it was once again time for some African Cup of Nations action. This time around, the Ivory Coast rampaged through the group stage with a 100 per cent record, scalping Nigeria, Mali and Benin along the way.
Kolo and his team continued their mean streak in the quarter-final phase, thumping Guinea by five goals to nil.
However, Egypt continued to give Ivory Coast nightmares. The five time champions at the time gave Ivory Coast a 4-1 thumping of their own in the semis to shatter any hopes of glory for the Ivorians. The Elephants were then beaten 4-2 by Ghana in the third place play off match.
2010 saw Ivory Coast top their African Cup of Nations group once more. However, this time the job wasn’t as straightforward. The Ivorians edged out Ghana for top spot with a measly four points from three games.
The Elephants suffered a 3-2 defeat at the hands of Algeria in the last eight to round off a pretty lack luster campaign for their standards. Toure once again did double duty for his nation in 2010.
They then travelled south to South Africa to take part in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Once again Ivory Coast were handed a tough draw in the group phase. This time they had Brazil, Portugal and North Korea to compete with for a spot in the last 16.
The Elephants came agonisingly close to finally reaching the last 16 but in the end they narrowly missed out on second place, with Christiano Ronaldo and Portugal edging over them by a point.
It turned out to be another African Cup of Nations, another runners-up medal for Kolo Toure in 2012. Now 31 years old, time was beginning to run out for Toure to win the trophy that is so dear to him. Ivory Coast breezed through group B with three wins from three games.
The Elephants would reach the final in a tournament that saw Kolo marshall his defence to every single game in the competition. Six clean sheets in six games for Kolo is some achievement. Usually, when you are not conceding goals, you are winning football matches but in this rare case the following rule that not apply.
Ivory Coast played out a scoreless draw with Zambia in the grand finale. The Zambians ran out 8-7 victors on penalty kicks as Toure missed the eight kick for the Ivorians.
Toure lifted the Premier League trophy in a history making season with Manchester City that year, temporarily easing the pain for the now veteran defender.
In a rare occurrence, there was yet another African Cup of Nations the following year in 2013. Ivory Coast finished the group stage with two wins and one draw to their name as they took top spot ahead of Togo, Tunisia and Algeria.
However, they would get no further than the quarter finals this time out. A 2-1 defeat to Nigeria sent Toure back to England rather prematurely for his liking.
Four years had past which meant it was World Cup time once again for Toure and the Ivory Coast. This time the West Africans were on route to the steaming hot country we all know as Brazil.
It was not third time lucky for Kolo when it came to reaching the World Cup knock out phase with his country, as the Elephants finished third once more in a group that featured Colombia, Greece and Japan.
Many around the world felt that given some of the quality that Ivory Coast had at their disposal, they really should have got out of this particular group which appeared pretty drab on paper.
The next time we would see Kolo Toure at an international tournament with the Ivory Coast was none other than the 2015 African Cup of Nations which concluded just last weekend. By now, Kolo was in the autumn of his career.
He had experienced many successes at club level, was fresh off just missing out on the Premier League title with Liverpool, and remained hungry to finally achieve success will representing his country.
Before a ball was kicked in the competition, the 33, soon to be 34, year old announced that he would be hanging up his boots on the international stage following the tournament’s end. It was now or never for the vice captain.
The Elephants got off to a good start in the tournament, winning the group with five points. Ivory Coast would then defeat Algeria and DR Congo by three goals to one in the quarter finals and semi finals respectively.
These wins set up a final showdown with fellow African heavyweights, Ghana. It was Toure’s third African Cup of Nations final and this time it was third time lucky for the centre back. Kolo and his country battled with Ghana for 120 minutes in a final that saw no goals scored by either side.
Like many of times before, Kolo Toure and Ivory Coast had to do it the hard way or no way at all as it was penalty shoot out time. Kolo netted the seventh penalty for his side and voilà the Ivory Coast were finally African Cup of Nations champions again and Mr Toure could happily retire with a winner’s medal on the international front.
As they say, better late than never.
Despite being a defender, Kolo still boasts a record of seven goals for his country. These goals have come against, Gabon, Tajikistan, Japan, Italy, Burundi and Morocco. Not bad for a centre half.
All in all, Toure has took part in three FIFA World Cups and seven African Cup of Nations tournaments in 15 years of honourable service for the Ivory Coast. Kolo Toure retires with no less than 112 caps for his country.
He will immediately go down in the history books as a legend for the Elephants. Kolo Toure’s retirement from international football well and truly marks the end of an era for football in the Ivory Coast.
That leaves time for one final “KOLO KOLO KOLO! KOLO KOLO! KOLO KOLO TOURE!”. Sorry, I couldn’t resist!