21 January 2012

Cote d'Ivoire/Sudan: Elephants Open Campaign for Title Under Close Scrutiny

Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix
Davies Nkausu of Zambia engages in acrobatics to keep the ball from Sudan's Tahir Mohamed, in white.

The dominant role of Didier Drogba and his ability to spur on yet another Cote d'Ivoire challenge on the African Nations Cup will come under scrutiny on Sunday.

The Ivorians start their latest tilt on the title in Malabo against Sudan, firmly favoured to win but needing still to convince of their potential.

The Elephants have been the hot tip for the last three tournaments but failed to live up to expectation every time. Their fortunes plummeted with Drogba's form.

Now as the Chelsea striker heads towards the end of his career, his potential finally to lead his side towards the victors' podium is under ever closer watch and his role against Sudan will be microscopically analyzed.

It is not the toughest of starts for the Ivorians, who have lost only once in seven previous meetings with the Sudanese, but will give a clearer picture of how influential Drogba remains as a newer generation emerges.

The Ivorians line up for the Group B match in the Equatorial Guinea capital with the new African Footballer of the Year Yaya Toure in charge of their midfield and the likes of Gervinho, Salomon Kalou and Seydou Doumbia ready to take over Drogba's role.

Coach Francois Zahoui has warned that the top-ranked African side playing Sudan, who are 120th in the FIFA standings, is a match with potential pitfalls.

"We need to know that the Ivorian football is very difficult and now the team that has nothing to lose is more dangerous than any selection," warned Zahoui in a pre-match press conference.

He starts the game without veteran defender Didier Zokora, who has a one-match suspension.

Sudan have a full quota of players available for the match. They are the only side who have a squad exclusively made up of home-based players, the majority from just two clubs -- Al Hilal and Al Merreikh, both from the capital, Khartoum.

It is only the second Nations Cup appearance in 36 years for one of the founder members of the Confederation of African Football, who scraped into the finals in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon as one of two best runners-up in the qualifying campaign.

Sudan were in the finals in Ghana four years ago but lost all three group games, losing all three 3-0.

The last goal they scored in the finals was in 1976 against Zaire and their last victory was in the 1970 final.

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InFocus

Cote d'Ivoire

Cote d'Ivoire's Gervinho, who scored his side's goal, heads past Cedric Kante of Mali.

The Elephants from Côte d'Ivoire qualified for the 19th Africa Cup of Nations of their history. Their sole continental victory was in 1992 in Senegal, but this year they bring a ... Read more »

Sudan

Davies Nkausu of Zambia engages in acrobatics to keep the ball from Sudan's Tahir Mohamed, in white.

The team comprised 23-locally based players. Winners of the 1970 edition of the tournament, they today occupy the 113th spot on the Fifa world football ranking. They were drawn in ... Read more »