The Captain – Didier Drogba
A talisman for both club and country, Didier Drogba will be an important player for the Ivory Coast should they finally get their hands on the Cup.
With 80 caps and 52 goals for his country, the Chelsea striker has well and truly helped put the Ivory Coast on the international map of football. He played an instrumental role in their qualification for the 2010 World Cup finals and has contributed plenty on their journey to this year’s Cup of Nations.
At 33, he is perhaps not the player he used to be – his pace, for one, has suffered – but has retained his eye for goal, his strength and his power.
He is not getting any younger – at the next African Cup of Nations competition in 2014, Drogba will be approaching the age of 36.
This will most likely be his final opportunity to captain his national side to their first piece of silverware for twenty years. What more motivation does he need?
Key Player – Yaya Toure
“I have tried to find another Yaya in my squad, but there isn’t another Yaya,” said Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini ahead of Toure’s departure for the competition.
Recently named the 2011 African Footballer of the Year, the 28-year-old is an asset to any side. Since joining City from Barcelona in the summer of 2010, he has made 55 appearances and scored nine goals, including the winner in the 2011 FA Cup final.
Described by some as the best box-to-box midfielder in the Premier League since Patrick Vieira, Toure is the type of player that teams are built around; the cog turning to keep everything working.
His ability to hold up play, his capability to both defend and attack to a high standard and his strength of running forwards with the ball makes him one of the most influential players in the competition and certainly invaluable to the Ivory Coast.
When the main cog grinds to a halt, however, everything falls apart around it. If the Ivorians are to have any chance of lifting the trophy this year, Toure must be on top of his game.
One to Watch – Salomon Kalou
On first thought, Kalou is an odd player to be chosen as ‘one to watch’ for his side. The 26-year-old has won 43 caps for the Ivory Coast since making his debut in 2007, and has been a consistent performer on the national scale.
However, he has fallen out of favour at Chelsea under new manager Andre Villas-Boas, making just six appearances so far this season – more than half of those coming from the bench.
For Kalou, this competition will not only be a chance to achieve glory with his country, but also to prove himself to his own manager – or catch the eye of others.
Expect Kalou to impress during this African Cup of Nations and add to his 16 international goals.
Keep An Eye On
- Cheick Tioté: The Newcastle midfielder has looked impressive for Newcastle so far this season and is expected to add to his two assists as his creativity has helped them climb to sixth in the Premier League.
- Seydou Doumbia: Named Russia’s Player of the Year for 2011, the 24 year old has scored 29 goals in 30 games for CSKA Moscow but has only won 14 caps for the Ivory Coast.
- Gervinho: Since joining Arsenal in July, he has scored only four goals for his new club, but is expected to develop into a top all-round striker.