2013 African Cup of Nations Qualifiers: Ivory Coast v Senegal Preview
Time is running out for Didier Drogba and other Ivory Coast ‘golden generation’ stars to capture the Africa Cup of Nations trophy.
The ‘Elephants’ were favourites to win the last four tournaments only to fall short each time with the most heartbreaking failure being the penalty shootout loss to Zambia in the final this year.
Drogba, Boubacar Barry, Kolo Toure and Didier Zokora are in the twilight of their careers as they launch another attempt to conquer the continent by hosting Senegal Saturday in a final round qualifier for the 2013 Cup of Nations.
It is the stand-out first leg fixture among 15 to be played this weekend with the return matches scheduled for October and the aggregate winners joining hosts South Africa at the January 19-February 10 tournament.
“This may be the last chance for this awesome generation and if the players are able to bring home the trophy it would be a tremendous gift for the entire nation,” says Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi.
“My objectives are very clear – to qualify this team for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations and to do better than in the previous edition, that is to say, to win the competition.”
Although the Ivorians and the Senegalese Teranga Lions have been playing qualifiers for decades, they have never met, adding an extra dash of intrigue before the clash at the 35,000-seat Felix Houphouet-Boigny stadium in Abidjan.
Ivory Coast, who failed to win the trophy this year despite not losing nor conceding a goal in six matches, are expected to build a winning lead at home, but bruised Senegal come into the game desperate to restore national pride.
If the Ivorians were unlucky losers of the Libreville final last February after Drogba blazed a regular-time penalty over, Senegal were shambolic as they lost all three first round games to make a humiliating early exit.
Amid the after-shocks, there was the inevitable change of coaches and when Frenchman Pierre Lechantre did a u-turn after getting the nod, local Joseph Koto was given the rebuilding task.
“The team that is most motivated and committed should win in Abidjan and we have the means to succeed there. Ivory Coast may be favourites, but we are strong challengers with footballers who can compete against anyone,” says Koto.
Ivory Coast are near full strength with goalkeeper Barry and striker Salomon Kalou fit after missing a friendly draw in Russia last month while Senegal hope Newcastle strikers Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse can shrug off poor club form.
Zambia start the title defence at home to Uganda in mining town Ndola and the return of Netherlands-based striker Jacob Mulenga, who missed the 2012 triumph through injury, is a boost for French coach Herve Renard.
Uganda have not competed at the Cup of Nations since losing the 1978 final to hosts Ghana and Scottish coach Bobby Williamson has developed a workmanlike squad that came agonisingly close to qualifying for the last tournament.
Cameroon will lack star striker Samuel Eto’o when they visit the Cape Verde Islands as he snubbed a call-up after his eight-month ban ended last month, claiming the squad is “amateurish and poorly organised”.
The Indomitable Lions missed the 2012 Cup of Nations as did Nigeria, whose coach and former captain Stephen Keshi has vowed to resign if the Super Eagles fail to eliminate Liberia, who have home advantage first.
Unstable post-revolution security in Libya means they must host Algeria in Moroccan city Casablanca while fellow North Africans Tunisia play in Sierra Leona and Morocco in Mozambique.
Asamoah Gyan, back from a self-imposed exile following a costly penalty miss against Zambia in a 2012 semifinal, leads Ghana against Malawi in Accra because regular captain John Mensah is injured.AFP