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Africa Cup of Nations: Ivory Cost

By Surya Solanki



Ivory Coast's Tiote Chekh (L) is challenged by Senegal's Zarco Toure on October 13, 2012 during an African Cup of Nations qualifier at Léopold Sédar Senghor stadium in Dakar
Ivory Coast's Tiote Chekh (L) is challenged by Senegal's Zarco Toure on October 13, 2012 during an African Cup of Nations qualifier at Léopold Sédar Senghor stadium in Dakar

African Cup of Nations Favourites: Ivory Coast

After a heart-rendering 2012 African Cup of Nations, where they lost in the final to a ‘lowly’
Zambia, Ivory Coast will be provided with the perfect opportunity to make amends for the past
failure when the land on the shores of South Africa to participate in the 2013 edition of the Cup
of Nations.

The Elephants boast the maximum number of players with global exposure and thus have the
most experienced team amongst the 16 qualified nations.

Hence, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that Didier Drogba and Co. are ranked as the best
nation in Africa and are already being billed as the team likely to lift the most coveted trophy in
the history of African football.

Road to South Africa

Being a consistent performer at the competitive stage over the past many years, Ivory Coast
were give a ‘bye’ to the second and the final round of the qualification process, wherein they
were drawn to face 2004 quarter-finalists Senegal.

The first leg was played in Abidjan, during which the Ivoirians dramatically came back from
behind to win the game 4-2. In the return fixture, Didier’s Drogba’s well-taken brace had
given the 1992 champions a four-goal advantage over their opponents, but the game had to be
abandoned in the second-half due to the riots instigated by the home fans.

Thereby, Ivory Coast qualified for the finals with a 6-2 aggregate in a shortened yet entertaining
qualifying tie.

As aforementioned Ivory Coast have the most glittering and experienced side in the finals.

According to Salim Said, leading blogger and pundit of the African sub-continent, this trait of the
team could be pivotal in ending their 20-year trophy drought.

 “The major strength is that their squad has vast tournament experience, no other team at
AFCON
supposed failures they keep coming back for more, there’s been no retirements, no blame. Many
of
2000s either through the first team or through the youth academy (in the starting XI v Senegal
in
understanding, which is key at international level.” Salim told me.

Now talking about the on-pitch quality of the players, Ivory Coast arguably have the best
attacking unit in Africa, led by their instrumental captain and talisman Didier Drogba.

Even though the former Chelsea hitman is entering the twilight of his career, the 34-year-old is
still one of the most feared strikers in world football right now.

Complementing their captain up front is former Chelsea winger Solomon Kalou and Arsenal’s
Gervinho. The two are proven internationals and will add massive attacking prowess and
impetus to the team.

Furthermore, the likely inclusion of former Arsenal transfer-target Seydou Doumbia and
Wigan’s stalwart Arouna Koné will mean that Ivory Coast will literally have an embarrassment
of riches up-front and manager Sabri Lamouchi will surely have a hard time deciding the players
who will spearhead the team’s attack.

Former Barcelona star Yaya Toure and Newcastle United’s Check Tiote will form the vital cog in
the team’s midfield.

Toure has become an instrumental part of Manchester City’s rise up in the European ladder
over the past few seasons and is presently the most complete midfielder in the game.

The 29-year-old forms the fulcrum of his club’s and the national team’s play, running the team’s
midfield with sheer understated excellence, providing the vital chain of attacking ammunition
the strikers and most importantly, rendering defensive cover for the two centre-backs.

Check Tiote on the other hand is a hard-tackling defensive midfielder who along with the 31-
year-old Didier Zokora, adds immense mobility and organization to the Ivory Coast team.

Defence is an avenue of concern for the team and veteran ‘keeper Boubacar Barry will have to
be at his utmost best to ensure that the ball stays out of the Elephants’ goal.

Thus, thereby concluding, Cote d’Ivoire will virtually posses the most intriguing midfield and
attack combinations at the finals and the above-mentioned players will form the backbone of
the nation’s bid to end their trophy-drought.

Salim too has a similar opinion.

 “The likes of Drogba, Yaya Toure, Kolo Toure and Boubacar Barry are key as they form the spine.
Gervinho also gives them that extra spark and imagination that they lack from wide positions, his
approach
job of winning the midfield battles. Drogba’s completeness is ideal in the system Ivory Coast play
and

Although Ivory Coast have a well-stacked midfield and attack, they lack a reliable and strong
defence.

Almost all the first-choice defenders are entering the primes of their respective careers and
have thus mellowed down over the twelve months or so.

The likes of Kolo Toure Emmanuel Eboué and Arthur Boka have looked lethargic at times and
lack the pace to shut down lively and pacey oppositions.

“Questions about the state of the defence have arisen as the Elephants are now playing more open
football
the

recent fixtures,” points out Salim.

Moreover, Lamouchi has been reluctant to give the youths a chance inject some fresh blood into
the team’s vulnerable defence and even though they didn’t leak a single goal in the last edition,
chances are that the Ivoirians will struggle to contain attacking-minded teams this time around.

 “I think they will finally do it. They have so much quality in the squad that it’s difficult
imagining any other team truly hurting them. Let’s not forget they didn’t concede a single
goal in the last tournament, which is quite impressive. Senegal did manage to score 2 goals
against them recently but both those goals were absolute belters. The only real question
mark is if they can do it when it really matters:  in the final. The pressure on them at home
isn’t
after losing to Zambia in the Cup of Nations.”

-Salim Said