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Last-chance saloon for some Ivory Coast stars
Chelsea striker Didier Drogba could be walking into the last-chance saloon when the doors of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations swing open this weekend. At 33 he is must be aware that time is not on his side and goalkeeper Boubacar Barry, 32, midfielder Didier Zokora, 31, and defender Kolo Toure, 30, are other likely first choices desperate to grasp the elusive trophy.
"I think it might be the last Cup of Nations for players like me, Kolo and Didier. A lot of us could stop and give younger stars like Salomon (Kalou) and Gervinho a greater role," says Turkey-based enforcer Zokora. Ivory Coast start the January 21-February 12 tournament in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea as co-favourites with Ghana, and virtually every pundit predicts they will clash in a west African climax. But despite parading so many skilful and experienced footballers, there is no guarantee the Ivorian Elephants will go all the way as they 'choked' in 2008 and 2010 when the hottest of favourites.
Drogba, who has been the face of Ivory Coast football for a decade, does not accept that winning the championship will be easier this time round because 'big guns' Egypt, Algeria, Cameroon, Nigeria and South Africa failed to qualify.
"I think the 2012 Cup of Nations will be very difficult -- perhaps even more difficult than previous editions," he warns. "Our ambition is to improve on two years ago when we were eliminated in the quarter-finals."
Ivory Coast appeared to have a last-four place sewn up when they led Algeria 2-1 with time ticking away in Cabinda only to concede a last-minute equaliser and another goal in extra time. Newcastle United midfielder Cheik Tiote, who was sent off during a warm-up victory over Tunisia in Abu Dhabi last weekend, cannot accept that such a talented squad has not won the tournament. "We have great players so we have to win something -- we have to win this Cup of Nations," he said of a country whose sole success in the continental showpiece came 20 years ago in Senegal. "Every time there is an African tournament people tell us that we are favourites to win, but when you look at our trophy cabinet there is nothing there. Absolutely nothing." Ivory Coast were rarely troubled as they defeated Tunisia (2-0) and Libya (1-0) in the United Arab Emirates with Kalou scoring in each game and Chelsea team-mate Drogba calmly slotting home a penalty. The Elephants also had it easy in the 2012 qualifiers, winning home and away against Benin, Burundi and Rwanda, and no one gives Group B rivals Sudan, Burkina Faso and Angola a chance of stopping them in Equatoguinean capital Malabo. They defeated hosts Sudan 1-0 in 1970, Angola 5-2 in 1998 and drew 0-0 with Burkina Faso two years ago and the first serious test for Drogba and company could come in the quarter-finals with Libya or Zambia probable opponents.
HOSTS COUNTRIES OF NEXT CAF COMPETITIONSOrange CAN 2012
REGULATIONS / PUBLICATIONSCAF Statutes