The ‘golden generation’ was tantalizingly close to winning their first Africa Cup of Nations title when they were beaten in a penalty shoot-out by Zambia in last year’s final.
Didier Drogba, Kolo Toure and Gervinho all missed their spot kicks as the Ivory Coast were edged out 8-7 on penalties in Libreville.
Widely regarded as having the most talented group of players at the Africa Cup of Nations, it was a heartbreaking finale to a tournament in which they did not concede a single goal.
The pressure to deliver in South Africa will be even more acute for a squad containing just six changes from last year. The likes of Boubacar Barry, Cheick Tiote, Salomon Kalou, Drogba and the Toure brothers will be desperate to shed the tag of African soccer’s great underachievers when they kick off against Togo in their first group game.
They will also face off against Tunisia and Algeria in a group in which they should qualify comfortably. But it is the knockout stages where the Ivorians have come undone in recent years, and it was Algeria who stunned them 3-2 in the quarterfinals three years ago when they were fancied to go all the way. In that game they led 2-1 going into the final minutes but an injury time goal and another in extra-time prompted then coach Vahid Halilhodzic to suggest that the problem was ‘psychological’.
If so, the events in last year’s final are unlikely to have improved the team’s state of mind and it will be up to coach Sabri Lamouchi to ensure that this group of players do not become one of the greatest ever African teams not to win a trophy.
23-man Ivory Coast Africa Cup of Nations Squad:
Goalkeepers: Boubacar Barry (Lokeren, Belgium), Badra Ali Sangare (IAFC), Daniel Yeboah (Dijon, France)
Defenders: Soulemanye Bamba (Trabzonspor, Turkey), Arthur Boka (VfB Stuttgart, Germany), Emmanuel Eboue (Galatasaray, Turkey), Igor Lolo (Kuban Krasnodar, Russia), Siaka Tiene (Paris St Germain, France), Kolo Toure (Manchester City, England), Ismael Traore (Stade Brest, France)
Midfielders: Max Gradel (St Etienne, France), Abdul Razak (Manchester City, England), Romaric (Real Zaragoza, Spain), Didier Ya Konan (Hannover 96, Germany), Cheick Tiote (Newcastle United, England), Yaya Toure (Manchester City, England), Didier Zokora (Trabzonspor, Turkey).
Forwards: Wilfried Bony (Vitesse Arnhem, Netherlands), Didier Drogba (Shanghai Shenhua, China), Gervinho (Arsenal, England), Salomon Kalou (OSC Lille, France), Arouna Kone (Wigan Athletic, England), Lacina Traore (Anzhi Makhachkala, Russia).
Player to Watch:
Yaya ToureFew players in world soccer have the capacity to exert so much influence over a game. The Manchester City midfielder was one of the central figures as his side won the English league title for the first time since 1968 last season. His ability to shift up through the gears and leave opposition players trailing in his wake is reminiscent of Patrick Vieira in his prime. Toure has added more goals to his game at club level as the years have gone on, primarily because he plays in a more advanced role for City than he did for previous club Barcelona. He also plays in an attacking midfield position for the Ivory Coast, leaving the likes of Tiote to do the dirty work behind him.
What They Say:
Sabri Lamouchi (coach)“If this generation is never to win anything, it would be an immense waste. To win the Afcon 2013 is our ambition. I know that my players are capable of it. They must take ownership of this project. Because for certain amongst them, this is without a doubt their last opportunity to win this competition. I believe in this group.” (fifa.com)
Group Matches:22nd January, 2013 v Togo
26th January, 2013 v Tunisia
30th January, 2013 v Algeria