It has been twenty years since Cote d’Ivoire last won the African Cup of Nations, despite being consistently tipped as one of the favourites to win the competition over the past few years. After being knocked out in the quarter finals in 2010, Les Elephants will be hoping to live up to expectations this time around – particularly as Cameroon, Nigeria and Egypt, the winners of the last three Cups, have all failed to qualify.
The Ivory Coast won their two warm-up friendly games before the competition, Chelsea pair Salomon Kalou and Didier Drogba scoring to beat Tunisia 2-1, and Kalou netting the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Libya. Yet as the highest FIFA-ranked side in the competition, suggestions that they did not show their full potential during both friendlies may be warranted. However, instead of questioning their ability, fans will be more inclined to anticipate a much stronger showing in Malabo.
Group B sees Les Elephants lining up against Angola, Sudan and Burkina Faso. Even those with limited knowledge of African football will pick out the Ivory Coast as the most likely of the four teams to qualify – indeed, they will face possibly the easiest group in the competition. But with expectation comes complacency, the very fault that previous sides have perhaps been guilty of in previous years.
Head coach François Zahoui is aware of this, and also aware of how many high-profile top quality footballers the country possesses – the entire squad, apart from Abdul Kader Keita of Al-Sadd, is based in Europe.
Ivory Coast national football team coach Francois Zahoui. (Copyright Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images)
After a qualifying campaign in which they picked up maximum points, the Ivory Coast will definitely be in a strong position to one-up their achievements of 2006, when they finished runners-up after losing to Egypt in the final. With a squad teeming with quality, the likes of Didier Drogba, the Toure brothers, Gervinho and Cheick Tiote amongst them, it is hard to look past this side to finally add some silverware to their rather bare trophy cabinet.