Currently placed 19th on Fifa ranking and first on the continent, Ivory Coast are widely seen as top favourites of the 2012 African Cup of Nations, thanks to a cream of sparkling European-based professionals that make up the group.
Set up in 2004, the team still boasts of the best generation of footballers to ever come out of the West African country.
However, the Elephants are yet to win any major tournament to show for their worth, and the commensurate global esteem they have gathered across the few past years has begun to sag, with disdainful receptions from frustrated local fans, whose enthusiasm for the team is now ebbing away.
Assembled with astute attackers, midfielders with stamina and team responsibility and brave defenders, the Ivorian squad should have lesser hurdles at least on the continent, but pundits keep wondering while they keep falling by the way side. Here comes a genuine chance for Didier Drogba and co to reach the summit in the absence of their obstacle teams – Cameroon, Egypt, Algeria and Nigeria.
The fact that many out of the brilliant bunch will likely bow out of international football after the 2012 Afcon, it is hoped they will strive to live up to expectation this time to top off their awesome adventure with the much-deserved continental trophy and send joy to millions of local fans who are still healing from a deadly post election conflict that claimed thousands of lives and displaced a million.
Road to Gabon / Equatorial Guinea 2012
Ivory Coast had an unbeaten run in the campaign. Placed in Group H against Burundi, Benin and Rwanda, the Ivorians scored a total of 19 goals, conceded only four and topped the group with the maximum 18 points. They became the second team to book their place for the showpiece after Botswana. The absence of veterans like Drogba, Kolo Toure, Salomon Kalou and goalkeeper Copa Barry at one time or the other during the campaign did not slow down the team’s momentum.
Even when they played some of their home games outside the country following the prolonged armed violence, the outfit remained focused and brightly accomplished its mission.
The star players
Although Ivory Coast parade a star-studded team, Chelsea’s Didier Drogba stands out not only as talisman and all-time top scorer, but as an inspiring figure for the entire generation. He is mostly flanked upfront by Arsenal’s elusive forward / winger Gervinho and piercing Salomon Kalou, while Russian Premier League current top scorer Seydou Doumbia either substitutes or supports. Manchester City’s Yaya Toure and former Tottenham’s Didier Zokora aggressively coordinates the midfield, endeavouring to cut off onslaughts while creating goal chances in the process. City’s Kolo Toure and former Arsenal right back Emmanuel Eboue keep the back half tight alongside Paris Saint Germain’s left back Siaka Tiene and Leicester’s Bamba Souleiman. Copa Barry of Lokeren has matured into a composed goalkeeper with good reflexes, aerial intelligence, and now effectively communicates with the defence. He was onetime voted Belgian League footballer of the year.
Francois Zahoui succeeded England former coach Sven Goran Eriksson, who led the Elephants to a rather uncreative and unexciting time at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The former Ivory Coast international, who is handling a senior national team for the first time, convinced the FA to snaffle the job after he led the team to win Italy 1-0 in a London friendly in August 2010. Although he initially faced criticism from within the team as being too inexperienced, he has been able to assert leadership and now runs things smoothly with the blessing of the FA, which renewed its trust in him after an awesome qualifying campaign for the 2012 Afcon.
The Elephants easily crushed the Black Stars 3-1 in the group stage of the 2010 Afcon, but failed to move past the quarterfinals after being stopped by Algeria 3-2, as Ghana proceeded to play the final against record holders Egypt.
Drogba scored his only goal of the tournament against Ghana.
Did you know?
Ivory Coast held several conclaves on whether to withdraw from the 2010 Afcon in solidarity with Togo after the Cabinda tragedy, but firmly decided in the end to stay on, to the disappointment of Togo officials though.
“If we fail to win the 2012 African Cup of Nations this time, Drogba and I and many others will have to cede the way for younger generation to try their best,” Didier Zokora, Trazbonspor, Turkey.
Nr. Name DOB Position Club Height
1 Copa Barry 30/12/1979 GK Lokeren (Belg) 180
2 Gérard Gnanhouan 12/02/1979 GK Avranches (Fr) 191
3 Daniel Yeboah 13/11/1984 GK Asec (IC) 183
4 Benjamin Angoua 28/11/1986 DF Valenciennes (Fr) 183
5 Kolo Touré 19/03/1981 DF Manchester City (Eng) 183
6 Souleymane Bamba 13/01/1985 DF Leicester City (Eng) 190
7 Siaka Tiéné 22/03/1982 DF Paris Saint Germain 176
8 Emmanuel Eboué 04/06/1983 DF Galatasaray (Turk) 178
9 Igor Lolo 22/07/1982 DF Krasnodar (Rus) 180
10 Arthur Boka 02/03/1983 DF Stuttgart (Gem) 166
11 Guy Demel 13/06/1981 DF West Ham (Eng) 189
12 Kafoumba Coulibaly 26/10/1985 MF Nice (Fr) 179
13 Didier Zokora 14/12/1980 MF Trabzonspor (Tur) 180
14 Jean-Jacques Gosso 15/03/1983 MF Orduspor (Tur) 177
15 Max Gradel 30/11/1987 MF Saint Etienne (Fr) 175
16 Didier Konan Ya 24/02/1984 MF Hanover 96 (Germ) 174
17 Yaya Touré 13/05/1983 MF Manchester City (Eng) 192
18 Cheick Tioté 21/06/1986 MF Newcastle (Eng) 177
19 Seydou Doumbia 31/12/1987 FW CSKA Moscow (Rus) 178
20 Salomon Kalou 05/08/1985 FW Chelsea (Eng) 186
21 Gervinho 27/05/1087 FW Arsenal (England) 179
22 Wilfried Bony 10/12/1988 FW Vitesse (Hol) 182
23 Didier Drogba 11/03/1978 FW Chelsea (Eng) 189
24 Kader Keita 06/08/1981 FW Al Sadd (Qt) 184