RUSTENBURG, South Africa (AFP) – Rustenburg may be one of the world’s top platinum mining centres, but gold is the precious commodity Ivory Coast are digging for when they take on Togo Tuesday.
For the fifth consecutive time, Didier Drogba’s Elephants are favourites to win the Africa Cup of Nations and the continent’s top-ranked team will be expected to dispatch Group D minnows Togo with ease.
With tricky Maghreb opposition in the shape of former champions Tunisia and Algeria ahead, the Ivorians will be anxious to get their 2013 campaign off to a flying start.
For 34-year-old Drogba, Africa’s most famous footballing son, this is the last chance to finally add the coveted crown to his over-laden trophy cabinet.
At the 2012 Nations Cup, Ivory Coast remained undefeated only to suffer an agonising penalty shoot-out loss to Zambia in the final in Libreville.
Ironically, Drogba’s missed penalty in regulation time set up the Zambians for victory.
The decision to switch the competition from even to odd years has offered the China-based forward one last throw of the Nations Cup dice.
On paper, at least, Tuesday’s Group D opener is a lop-sided affair, with Togo a yawning 63 rungs behind Ivory Coaost on FIFA’s world rankings’ ladder.
With Drogba and the Toure brothers Kolo and Yaya from English Premier League champions Manchester City in their midst the Ivorians are oozing class — yet remain Cup-less.
This so-called ‘golden generation’ has failed to emulate the class of 1992, which brought the Nations Cup title to Abidjan for the only time after winning a marathon shoot-out over Ghana in Senegal.
They lost the 2006 final in Cairo on penalties to Egypt, with the Pharaohs sweeping them aside 4-1 in the semi-finals two years later.
In 2010 they were undone by Algeria, who won a quarter-final thriller in extra time, before going so close in Gabon/Equatorial Guinea last year.
Drogba, whose mother set up a street stall cooking food for fans in Gabon, is hungrier than ever to take the coveted prize.
“It would be great to win the trophy now. Honestly, we are getting tired of losing out each time,” says the striker who plans to make his international swansong at the 2014 World Cup should Ivory Coast make it to Brazil.
“This Africa Cup is undoubtedly my last. I want to pour my whole heart and strength into it.
“We have come so close to winning the trophy twice, but that doesn’t mean we should slow down. We have learnt from our failures and are returning to win the title.”
Ivory Coast are coached this year by inexperienced Frenchman Sabri Lamouchi.
Togo, back for the first time since the Cabinda attack in Angola in 2010 when two members of their entourage were killed by separatists in the oil-rich enclave, have nothing to lose.
Their return, though, was clouded by Emmanuel Adebayor’s interminable ‘will he compete, won’t he compete’ saga.
The Tottenham striker has retired more times than Frank Sinatra, but finally decided to join up with his compatriots following a little arm-twisting from the tiny west African nation’s president.
Although he may have scored only twice for Spurs this term, Adebayor is undoubtedly the star of the national side, equalising away and opening the scoring at home against Gabon in the decisive qualifier.
Togo’s ‘reward’ for making it to South Africa was being drawn with three of the top 10 teams in Africa, yet French coach Didier Six is undaunted.
“We are not afraid of these big teams. This group is difficult, but we have a new generation that want to make a name for itself. There is everything to gain and nothing to lose.”
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