AFCON Profile: Ivory Coast

Africa's top-ranked side enter the event as strong favourites, boasting global icons in Yaya Toure and Chelsea hitman Didier Drogba

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Africa's top-ranked side enter the event as strong favourites, boasting global icons in Yaya Toure and Chelsea hitman Didier Drogba.

The Elephants have, however, struggled under the burden of heavy expectation, stumbling in the first round of the 2010 World Cup, and suffering a quarter-final exit in the previous Africa Cup of Nations.

To be fair, the West Africans were pooled in an imposing group in South Africa, comprising five-time World Cup winners Brazil, European heavyweights Portugal and minnows North Korea.

Nevertheless, with comparisons to England's misfiring 'golden generation' steadily gaining currency, Drogba and co will be eager to emulate the country's sole continental success in 1992.

Sporting honours may also help ease tension in the former French colony, where post-election violence last year rekindled fears of a return to civil war. Strongman Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to accept defeat at the polls, was eventually ousted by supporters loyal to current President Alassane Ouattara. Drogba, in particular, has been heavily involved in efforts to promote peace in the world's number one cocoa producer.

The Ivorians underlined their AFCON ambitions with a dominant qualifying run, plundering 19 goals and conceding just four as they recorded six straight victories. They open their campaign against Sudan in Malabo on 22 January, before tackling Group B rivals Burkina Faso and Angola.

PREVIOUS AFCON INVOLVEMENT:

Ivory Coast, runners-up in 2006, captured their maiden AFCON title in 1992, ousting four-time champions Ghana on penalties after a goalless fare in regulation time.

They finished fourth in 2008, and two years ago they repeated their last-eight exit of 1998, this time at the hands of north Africans Algeria in a five-goal thriller in Angola. Before losing out to the Desert Foxes, Ivory Coast topped their group made up of losing finalists Ghana, Burkina Faso and Togo, who withdrew on the eve of the competition after a deadly gun attack on their team bus by Cabinda-based rebels.

SQUAD OVERVIEW:

Coach Francois Zahoui possesses arguably the strongest squad at the tournament, with his entire contingent plying their trade overseas.

Toure and Drogba headline a stellar bill, which includes fellow Premier League stars Kolo Toure (Man City), Gervinho (Arsenal), Salomon Kalou (Chelsea) and Cheick Tiote (Newcastle).

Add into the equation the vastly experienced Didier Zokora, Ligue 1 pair Max Gradel and Siaka Tiene, as well as Russian Player of the Year Seydou Doumbia and it's easy to see why Zahoui is the envy of his counterparts.

ONE TO WATCH:

Manchester City ace Yaya Toure is expected to provide the cutting edge in midfield for the attack-minded Ivorians. The 28-year-old, with over 50 caps, was recently crowned African Player of the Year, pipping Mali's Seydou Keita and Ghanaian Andre 'Dede' Ayew to the coveted accolade. He joins Drogba as the only other Ivorian to have claimed the prize since its introduction in 1992.

FACTS

FIFA Rank: 16

Coach: Francois Zahoui

Captain: Didier Drogba

Nickname: The Elephants

Previous AFCON finish: quarter-finals

SQUAD:

Goalkeepers: Boubacar Barry (Lokeren/BEL), Gerard Gnanhouan (US Avranches/FRA), Daniel Yeboah (Dijon/FRA).

Defenders: Souleymane Bamba (Leicester/ENG), Didier Zokora (Trabzonspor/TUR), Siaka Tiene (PSG/FRA), Benjamin Angoua (Valenciennes/FRA), Kolo Toure (Manchester City/ENG), Igor Lolo (FC Kuban/RUS), Emmanuel Eboue (Galatasaray/TUR), Arthur Boka (Stuttgart/GER).

Midfielders: Yaya Toure (Manchester City/ENG), Kafoumba Coulibaly (Nice/FRA), Jean-Jacques Gosso (Orduspor/TUR), Didier Ya Konan (Hanover 96/GER), Max Gradel (St Etienne/FRA), Cheik Ismael Tiote (Newcastle/ENG).

Attackers: Salomon Kalou (Chelsea/ENG), Didier Drogba (Chelsea/ENG), Gervinho (Arsenal/ENG), Seydou Doumbia (CSKA Moscow/RUS), Wilfried Bony (Vitesse Arhnem/NED), Kader Keita (Al Sadd/QAT).