Ivory Coast won their second Africa Cup of Nations title in 2015 Equatorial Guinea beating Ghana in the finals on penalties and on 16th January the Elephants will start the defence of their crown against Togo in Gabon 2017 but before the tournament even kicks-off on 14th January I take a look at the reasons why Michel Dussuyer’s side can make it two in a row.
1. Good squad
Coach Michel Dussuyer has put together one of the best squads to compete in this Nations Cup and that is the most important factor to consider for any team to win the Cup of Nations. Yaya Toure who captained the team to success in 2015 retired from international football but 20-year old Franck Kessi touted by some as the “new Yaya Toure” has been a revelation for the Ivory Coast and his midfield partnership with Switzerland-based Serey Die is one that Dussuyer has been proud of during the qualification series. There is also Nice star player Jean Michael Seri . One thing that is good about the Ivorian squad is that there is some good balance – youth and experience. 31-year old Salomon Kalou and Wilfried Bony are expected to be the leaders of the Ivorian attack whiles Dussuyer can also call on young attackers like Angers wonderboy Nicolas Pepe and Max Alain Gradel of Bournemouth and Giovani Sio are all options.
2.No pressure to deliver
They are the defending champions after all as they just won the tournament just two years ago and hell will not break lose should they fail to defend it. Sometimes you need to go into tournaments without some of these huge pressure on your shoulder and Ivory Coast have that. Its not like the case of the Black Stars of Ghana who have not won the competition for over 30-somethings years – Oh yes, 35 years and so they go into every Nations Cup with that pressure to win at all cost from Ghanaian fans in mind.
3.Luck on foreign land
Ivory Coast have won all two of their Nations Cup titles on foreign soil – Senegal in 1992 and Equatorial Guinea in 2015 and in both finals, it was Ghana that they defeated to clinch the trophy and on both occasions they won on penalties . Oh ! How lucky the Ivory Coast have been. Could you believe that when they hosted the tournament in 1984, they failed to even come out of the group stages? Another element of history that backs the Elephants is that the last two editions of the AFCON have been won by West African teams and the Ivorians can win it if the trend is to continue.
4.Best defence wins championships
It is a widely known phrase in football that you need the best defence to win championships and mostly it turns out to be true. Just look at Leicester City in their amazing 2015/16 EPL triumph – solid defence in Morgan, Huth, Simpson and Fuchs.
In 2013 AFCON, the two finalists were the teams that had the best defence and conceded the least number of goals – runners-up Burkina Faso conceded just 3 goals in the tournament and Nigeria, the eventual winners, conceded 4 goals. Even before that, in the 2012 edition, Ivory Coast finished as runners-up without conceding a single goal and winners Zambia never conceded a goal in knockout round all the way to the finals where they won on penalties after 120 goalless minutes of intense football.
For the last AFCON played, the winners Ivory Coast conceded 4 goals whiles second-placed Ghana allowed just 3 goals in.
Going to Gabon, Mr. Dussuyer is lucky to have characters like Serge Aurier of PSG and Eric Bailly of Manchester United and Lamine Kone of Sunderland and these are defenders playing in bigger leagues at the highest level of European football. You can trust them.
The last but not the least reason is the fact that the Ivorian team has Wilfried Zaha who switched allegiance to represent the West African country – and to me he is the best player at one-on-one situations in this AFCON with DR.Congo’s Yannick Bolasie ruled out due to injury. Zaha could prove to be an important asset for Dussuyer’s side with his breathtaking and productive wing play. If Dussuyer uses him well, Zaha could be crucial for the Elephants bidding to maintain their crown.
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