The Elephants of Côte d'Ivoire are trumpeting their way to a second successive FIFA World Cup finals appearance and could pose the most serious African challenge in South Africa next year.
After three matches in the final group stage, the Ivorians have a 100 per cent record, including victories over their two major rivals away from home. Wins in both Burkina Faso and Guinea in June has seen the side also catapult a dramatic 20 places in the latest FIFA Coca-Cola World Ranking; a leap more fitting of a leopard than elephant.
The Ivorians are now up to 18th, equalling their previous highest position achieved in August 2006. The jump of 20 places in July was also the biggest they had ever moved up the table in a single month. A top 20 berth is a solid indicator of the potential of the west African country, who were eliminated in the group stages at the last FIFA World Cup finals in Germany.
Defeats in their first two matches in Germany meant their last game against Serbia and Montenegro was all but academic, but the thrilling contest [which the Elephants won 3-2] was one of the highlights of the tournament.
You know it is not easy as all teams playing against us are highly motivated. I understood that there was an enormous challenge and also great potential.
Since then, the Ivorians have been arguably the top side on the continent and at the last CAF Africa Cup of Nations finals in Ghana, they looked way and above the best team on display as they defeated their early round opponents with ease.
But they fell apart in the semi-finals against eventual winners Egypt, leaving their superstar line-up to contemplate what might have been. Consolation is in the offing in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers where with three games left, the Ivorians need four more points to secure a place in the tournament in South Africa.
They host Burkina Faso in September and a home victory will leave the Ivorians only needing a single point away in Malawi on October to make mathematically certain of their FIFA World Cup berth.
The immense charisma of Didier Drogba and a sporting cast of other incredible talent have made it a dream job for Bosnian coach Vahid Halilhodzic, who took over in the wake of the disappointment at the last CAF Africa Cup of Nations. "You know it is not easy as all teams playing against us are highly motivated," said Halilhodzic. "I understood that there was an enormous challenge and also great potential."