Côte d'Ivoire have long been a powerhouse in African football. Surprisingly, they had to wait until 2006 to appear on the global stage when they qualified for the FIFA World Cup™ in Germany. They repeated that success in 2010 when they played at the finals in South Africa and are now looking to make it a hat-trick of consecutive appearances.
The Ivorians became the second team to qualify for the 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations on the pitch with a 100 per cent record from their four opening matches, and, on paper at least, only Morocco seem capable of being a stumbling block for the Elephants en route to the next round.
If any group has a clear favourite, it must be group C, where the Ivorians take on Morocco, Gambia and either Chad or Tanzania. With a squad consisting virtually entirely of players competing in top-flight clubs throughout Europe, it is difficult to see any team capable of stopping the side from advancing. As the top-ranked nation in Africa, the west Africans are expected to find passage into the next round.
Morocco: The Atlas Lions have played more FIFA World Cup qualifiers than any other African country with 98, and they will become the first African country to surpass the 100-game mark during this qualifying campaign. They have not played on the highest footballing stage since 1998, though, and Belgian coach Eric Gerets and his team are keen to change that.
Gambia: With several Scandinavian and USA-based players in their squad, Gambia could pull off a surprise or two in the qualifiers. They are currently ranked 100th in the world and probably need a miracle rather than a surprise to advance to the next round.
The crunch match
In some ways Morocco represent the past in African FIFA World Cup history, having been the first to qualify from an African preliminary competition for the finals in 1970, the first to win a group and the first to advance to the knockout stage (both 1986). Since then, success at the FIFA World Cup has all but dried up, while the heralded orange-clad side from Côte d'Ivoire very much represent the present.
A look back
Côte d'Ivoire 2-0 Morocco, 4 June 1995, Abidjan
Having defeated Côte d'Ivoire in the home leg, the Atlas Lions needed only a draw to advance to the finals of the Nations Cup in South Africa. But 45,000 spectators saw Les Elephants score both sides of the break to qualify for the finals, knocking out Morocco in the process.
13 - The number of years that Moroccan fans have had to wait since their team last made it to the finals of a FIFA World Cup (France 1998).
Did you know?
Gambia drew twice with Senegal in the qualifiers for South Africa 2010, thereby ensuring that the 2002 quarter-finalists were knocked out in the first round.
Have your say
Is any team capable of stopping the mighty Elephants as they make their way to Brazil?