Ivorians out to arrest Ghanaian woes
Ghana does not hold happy memories for this year's CAF Africa Cup of Nations favourites Côte d'Ivoire. When the biennial competition was last staged there eight years ago, the Elephants made a first-round exit despite defeating the co-hosts 2-0 in the final series of mini-league matches.
A convincing victory over Ghana in Accra should have been cause for celebration, but the damage had been done to the Ivorians after a draw against Togo and a heavy loss to Cameroon. After the mathematicians completed their work, Cameroon and Ghana were through to the quarter-finals and Côte d'Ivoire returned home.
Furious at the results, the military rulers ordered the team into a camp for several days where local and foreign-based players were drilled in the importance of national pride. Not that the 'boot camp' brought the desired results as the team made another first round exit in Mali two years later and did not even qualify for the 2004 finals after a loss in South Africa.
Another two years saw the Elephants transformed from tournament onlookers to unlucky runners-up, with the usually clinical Didier Drogba missing several chances before hosts Egypt took the trophy on a penalty shootout.
This time round they are among the favourites, along with
Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria. And it is not difficult to see why
many fancy Côte d'Ivoire to emulate their Cup of Nations
winning team of 1992. The Elephants' squad is packed with
players from leading European clubs like Arsenal, Barcelona and
There are seasoned Gunners defenders Emmanuel Eboue and Kolo Toure, emerging Barcelona midfielder Yaya Toure and Chelsea forwards Salomon Kalou and Drogba. A knee operation last month cast doubt over the availability of the latter, but Côte d'Ivoire are confident their reigning African Footballer of the Year will be in Ghana to spread panic among Group B rivals Benin, Mali and Nigeria.
But whether the Ivorians go all the way could hinge on less known Boubacar Barry, with coach Uli Stielike claiming the goalkeeper is the most improved player in the squad and the solution to a long-running problem.
Stielike, meanwhile, will miss the tournament after his son lapsed into a coma this week and experienced Frenchman Gerard Gili, coach of the Côte d'Ivoire side that qualified for the Men's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008, takes over.