Unlike established African heavyweights like Egypt, Nigeria, Cameroon, Morocco and Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire have never represented the continent at a Men's Olympic Football Tournament. The Elephants also had to bide their time before taking their FIFA World Cup bow at Germany 2006. But having made it to Beijing, can the new kids on the block kick on and bring joy to a country whose highest placing in international competition to date remains the third spot they obtained at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Canada 1987?
Côte d'Ivoire's long wait to reach the one international tournament they have yet to appear in finally came to an end on 18 December 2007, when they defeated Zambia 4-1 at the Stade Houphouet-Boigny in Abidjan. Gerard Gili's U-23 charges faced a far from easy task when they were drawn in the same group as the Zambians, Mali and Senegal. Nevertheless, the young Elephants had the measure of their opponents to emerge comfortable winners in Group B. The mainstay of the team is Gervais Yao Kouassi, aka Gervinho. So impressive has the Le Mans playmaker been in setting the tempo of the U-23 side that he earned a place in the squad for the 2008 CAF Africa Cup of Nations. The rising star could well be joined in Beijing by household names such as Salomon Kalou and Didier Drogba.
With the likes of Kone Kouamatien and Antoine Ngossan in their ranks, the Africans are not short of star quality. And waiting in the wings are a host of talented youngsters poised to emerge from the prolific Academie Mimosas and follow in the footsteps of former graduates Kolo Toure (Arsenal), Baky Kone (Nice) and Aruna Dindane (Lens).
Facts and figures
This is Côte d'Ivoire's first appearance at the Olympic Games.
Salomon Kalou (forward) and Gervais Yao Kouassi (forward)
Gervinho and Co bounced back in fine style after losing 2-0 to Zambia in the opening game in the final qualifying group, winning all their remaining games and scoring 13 goals in the process.
The numbers game
5: The number of wins the Ivorians strung together in qualifying for Beijing 2008, making them the most impressive of Africa's three qualifiers.
|3||Ousmane Viera DIARRASSOUBA|
|9||Franck DJA DJEDJE|
|17||Antoine N GOSSAN|