Ivory Coast, Cameroon begin Cup of Nations bids
19 January 2015, 13:56
Malabo - The Ivory Coast begin their latest bid for Africa Cup of Nations glory on Tuesday when they take on west African neighbours Guinea in Group D in Malabo before Cameroon and Mali clash.
The Elephants have not won the continental title since 1992, although they have suffered agonising defeats on penalties in the 2006 and 2012 finals, with the latter loss coming against Herve Renard's Zambia.
And it is the charismatic Frenchman who has been charged with the task of leading the Ivory Coast to glory in Equatorial Guinea.
His side did not always impress in qualifying, finishing second in their section behind Cameroon, and Renard has claimed that they cannot be considered as favourites to win the 30th Cup of Nations, especially since the retirement of the great Didier Drogba.
Nevertheless, the Ivorians still surely boast the strongest squad in the competition, with names like Serge Aurier, Kolo Toure, Gervinho, Seydou Doumbia and Wilfried Bony.
Then there is Bony's Manchester City colleague Yaya Toure, who as the four-time African footballer of the year is the star draw at the finals.
He did not train with the rest of his team-mates in Malabo on Sunday, although Renard has indicated that he has just been keeping the 31-year-old as fresh as possible after a busy spell for his club.
"He has played a lot, notably between Christmas and New Year, for Manchester (City) and the most important thing is Tuesday," said Renard, whose team arrived in Equatorial Guinea on Friday after a training camp in Abu Dhabi.
"We have had a super training camp where the players were very receptive. For the moment everything is great but the most important thing is the competition.
"Guinea are difficult opponents with lots of pace. They have a coach who has been there for four and a half years and does a good job so we need to be wary so that we don't get caught out and start well."
Guinea are widely considered to be the weakest team in the group and it would be a big surprise if they reached the quarter-finals for the first time since 2008.
Under French coach Michel Dussuyer they finished second behind Ghana in qualifying, with Seydouba Soumah of Slovan Bratislava scoring five times in six games.
Later on Tuesday at the Estadio de Malabo, Cameroon will look to confirm their impressive form in qualifying when they face the Eagles of Mali.
Volker Finke's Indomitable Lions have recovered from a poor World Cup campaign in Brazil and the retirement of the great Samuel Eto'o and are genuine contenders to win the title.
However, they will have to do without new skipper Stephane Mbia, who has recovered from an injury picked up playing for Sevilla earlier this month but is suspended after being sent off against the Ivory Coast in November.
"I feel very, very good now. I'm just a bit disappointed that I can't play the first match. The most important thing for me is to recover well and think about supporting my teammates," he said.
Giant Malian striker Cheick Diabate is missing after undergoing knee surgery earlier this month, although Eagles coach Henryk Kasperczak can call upon the proven goalscoring qualities of Mustapha Yatabare and Modibo Maiga.
They have been training around 40 kilometers to the south of Malabo, where it is even hotter than in the steamy capital.
They have no injuries to report, although their preparations were not helped by the fact their training equipment arrived behind the team, only appearing in Malabo on Saturday.
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