21 January 2013

Cote d'Ivoire/Togo: Africa's Top Football Side Face Last Hurrah

Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix
Gervinho of Cote d'Ivoire celebrates his goal during the encounter with Togo.

There is much expectation of a Cote d’Ivoire victory in this 2013 Africa Cup of Nations as they begin their Group D campaign against Togo in Rustenburg on Tuesday.

The Ivorians have been the stand-out African side over the past four or five years, but have failed to turn their dominance in qualifying into trophy success.

They enter this tournament at number 14 in the FIFA World Rankings, the best placed African side, and have managed to persuade all of their top names to travel to South Africa.

It is also a last hurrah for star striker Didier Drogba, who has had such tremendous success at club level, but has failed to inspire his beloved Elephants on the continental stage despite two finals appearances.

Their pool has been labeled the Group of Death – aside from the unpredictable Togolese, they also face the twin north African threat of Algeria and Tunisia, two other sides in Africa’s top 10.

But Ivorian coach Sabri Lamouchi says he has been pleased with his side’s warm-up and insists they are in the right frame of mind to succeed.

“I have no concerns about the state of mind that we have developed. I am convinced that we are on the right track,” he said.

"It is unquestionably the most difficult group and we got three fearsome opponents. [But] we were favourites before the draw and still are. Now we must deliver on the pitch."

There is no doubt of their attacking threat, but questions remain over the side's defensive prowess. If they can get that right in this tournament, it is hard to see them being beaten in stadia and pitches that will suit their flowing game.

Togo have had a chaotic build-up with questions of whether talismanic striker Emmanuel Adebayor would turn up to play.

It took an intervention from the country’s president to persuade him to leave his English Premiership club Tottenham Hotspur for the event and his participation as Togo’s one star turn will be a great relief to French coach Didier Six.

This will also be Togo's first Nations Cup match since the horror of the gun attack on their team bus ahead of the 2010 event in Angola, after which they pulled out of the competition. It will no doubt be an emotional return to Africa’s biggest stage for those players who lived through that experience.

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