Ivory Coast AFCON favourites

2010-01-05 19:12
Didier Drogba (File)
Angola - The 2010 African football feast begins on Sunday in Angola with the Orange African Nations Cup serving as a tempting starter ahead of the multi-flavoured World Cup main course.

Only hosts South Africa of the six World Cup qualifiers from Africa will be missing and Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria are expected to make the Nations Cup knockout phase.

Add defending champions Egypt and hosts Angola and the list of likely African champions is complete for the first Nations Cup to be staged in a Portuguese-speaking country since its inception 53 years ago.

Didier Drogba-inspired Ivory Coast are the darlings of the media and for the second consecutive tournament carry the favourites tag into a 22-day extravaganza scheduled for capital Luanda plus Benguela, Cabinda and Lubango.

After trampling all before them two years ago in Ghana the Ivorians came horribly unstuck in the semi-finals against title holders Egyptians, who won 4-1 with Amr Zaki scoring twice.

Bosnian coach Vahid Halilhodzic has been busy lately dampening Ivory Coast expectations, warning that while his star-sprinkled squad makes for impressive reading, the total impact is often less than the sum of the parts.

Drogba, who has hinted that Angola will be his Nations Cup swansong, says the arrogance and complacency of the 2008 squad must be eradicated if the Ivorians are to win the tournament a second time.

"We will treat every opponent with respect, humility and seriousness. There is no room for complacency like in Ghana. No game is won in advance," warned the 31-year-old Chelsea goal machine.

Ivory Coast are in an all-west Africa Group B with Ghana, Burkina Faso and Togo and it would be a shock if the two World Cup qualifiers failed to stamp their authority.

Without a Nations Cup title since 1982, Ghana have been ravaged by injuries with central defenders John Pantsil and John Mensah and midfielders Stephen Appiah and Laryea Kingston ruled out.

And Serb coach Milovan Rajevac axed midfielder Sulley Muntari for ill discipline so the always demanding workload for box-to-box Chelsea workaholic Michael Essien just got a few kilograms heavier.

Togo boast Manchester City striker Emmanuel Adebayor and the pick of the Burkina Faso line-up is Moumouni Dagano, a Qatar-based striker and leading scorer in the qualifying competition with 12 goals.

Champions a record six times, Egypt are another side staggering from pre-tournament blows with playmaker Mohamed Aboutraika, fellow midfielders Mohamed Barakat and Mohamed Shawky, and Zaki ruled out by injury.

No country has won the Nations Cup three consecutive times and while the Pharaohs seem set to finish among the top two in Group C completed by Nigeria, Benin and Mozambique, it is difficult to imagine them going all the way again.

Nigeria coach Shaibu Amodu, boosted by successful late fitness tests on Everton defender Joseph Yobo and Wolfsburg striker Obafemi Martins, has been told to reach the semi-finals or face some sombre music.

In truth, only a first title for the Nigerian Super Eagles since 1994 may save the coach amid rumours of unhappiness among his assistants over some squad selections like ring-rusty reserve goalkeeper Austin Ejide.

The advantages of playing at home should propel Angola into the last eight from Group A with Algeria and Mali contesting the other place and Malawi looking too limited to compete successfully at this level.

Celebrated Portuguese coach Manuel Jose has set a quarter-finals target for the Angolan Palancas Negras (Black Antelopes), but tradition suggests they could go further with just four of 27 hosts failing to reach the last four.

Cameroon, a transformed team under the strict but fair leadership of French coach Paul le Guen, appear stronger than Group D rivals Gabon, Tunisia and Zambia and even good enough to claim a fifth title.

Talismanic striker Samuel Eto'o revels in the extra responsibility of being made captain and veteran defender Rigobert Song, refusing to sulk after losing the armband and a team place, won back a slot in the starting line-up.


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