Cote d’Ivoire have a new chief in Yaya Toure to lead his country’s charge for a long-awaited second Africa Cup of Nations trophy, which the retired Didier Drogba could not deliver.
Chelsea striker Drogba has retired from international football and so will not be leading the Elephants in Equatorial Guinea.
The big striker provided class and inspiration as the 1992 African champions returned to top reckoning by reaching the 2006 Nations Cup final, where they lost to hosts Egypt on penalties, and qualified for three World Cups – 2006, 2010 and 2014.
The Elephants, brimming with exciting individual talents, were thereafter dubbed the leading favourites to win subsequent tournaments, but even when they again reached the final in 2012 they were upstaged by an inspired Zambian side.
Several of those from the country’s ‘Golden Generation’ led by Drogba like Didier Zakora, Arthur Boka, Emmanuel Eboue, Kader Keita and Aruna Dindane will not be Equatorial Guinea thus bestowing the mantle of leadership on Manchester City star Yaya.
The 31-year-old Yaya is a world-class box-to-box midfielder, whose undoubted quality was further underlined when he was voted the CAF African Player of the Year for a record fourth successive year this month.
He has also won several major trophies with his various clubs, from Asec Mimosas of Abidjan to Barcelona and Manchester City, where he played a key role in the club’s two English Premier League titles in the 2011/12 and 2013/14 seasons.
Critics though have been quick to point out Yaya has failed to translate his form at club level to the full international stage, like was the case at last year’s World Cup in Brazil, where the Elephants failed to go past the first round.
After the disappointments in Brazil and the 2013 Nations Cup, where they were outscored by less fancied Nigeria in the quarterfinals, the West Africans have tried to pick up the pieces under French coach Herve Renard to qualify for Equatorial Guinea 2015.
But even that qualification was not the easy cruise it once was as they finished in second place, four points adrift of group winners of Cameroon, who thrashed them 4-1. They were also stunned 4-3 at home by DR Congo.
The build-up leading to this tournament has also been far from inspiring – they struggled to beat the local-based Nigeria side 1-0, before they lost 2-0 to Sweden in warm-up games in the United Arab Emirates.