The Elephants are looking to kick off their campaign with a win over a side which has not beaten them for over 20 years
By Brian Oliver in Malabo
Yaya Toure and his Cote d’Ivoire team are fit and all fired up to start their Africa Cup of Nations campaign, but there is more than a hint of wariness about their chances because of their defensive frailty.
The good news for the tournament favourites is that Toure, who sat out training on Saturday with a tight hamstring, is raring to go in Malabo. Their first opponents, the group outsiders Guinea, are weakened by injury to their captain and key defender Kamil Zayatte. The Sheffield Wednesday man is unable to train for three days.
“I enjoy playing in Africa, and sharing things with my people,” Toure, who replaced Didier Drogba as captain, said.
“I am very proud to be here. We just want to start and do our best.”
Toure reeled off the names of Cote d’Ivoire’s potential match-winners – Cheick Tiote, Wilfried Bony, Seydou Doumbia and Salomon Kalou, and there’s Toure himself, too, of course. But they will not be complacent against opponents who have not beaten them for 20 years. “They qualified well, they’re a good team,” he said.
A glance at the squads shows they should be nowhere near as good as Cote d’Ivoire.
All those stars further forward cannot hide the fact, though, that the Ivorians look vulnerable in defence. They conceded 11 in six games in qualifying, and were thumped 4-1 by their Group D rivals, Cameroon, whom they play last in the group stages.
“We have a lot of young players in our squad, and we need a certain solidity in our defence,” said coach Herve Renard. “It’s a transition between one generation and the next. Only 13 of this squad played at the World Cup, and that was only six months ago.”
Kolo Toure has more than 100 caps and the ageing Liverpool man will have a big task in leading from the back. While Siaka Tiene is also very experienced, left-back Serge Aurier has not had a great season at Paris Saint-Germain and the other four defenders had less than 10 caps between them when the squad was announced.
Renard wants not just to qualify, but to win the group so their first knockout game would be in the same stadium.