Two-time African Soccer Player of the Year, Didier Drogba, will lead an experienced Ivory Coast at the Africa Cup of Nations tournament that starts later this month in South Africa.
The squad includes six English Premier League players, including the Toure brothers – Razak and Abdul – who play for Manchester City; Arsenal striker, Gervinho; Newcastle’s Cheick Tiote and Wigan Athletic forward, Arouna Kone, who earns a recall after competing in the competition in 2006 and 2008.
Drogba, Emmanuel Eboue, Didier Zokora, Boubacar Barry, Arthur Boka, Siaka Tiene and the Toure brothers will be playing in their fifth successive tournament. Third choice goalkeeper Badra Ali Sangare is the only uncapped player in the 23-member squad that will take part in a 10-day training camp in Abu Dhabi from January 6 to 16 and play a friendly against seven-time Africa Cup of Nations champions Egypt there on January 14 before heading to South Africa.
Ivory Coast, which lost to Zambia on penalty kicks in last year’s final, is the top seed in its group that also includes Algeria, Togo and Tunisia.
Former Tottenham United defender, Bongani Khumalo, will skipper host country South Africa in the tournament. The Greece-based player steps into the leadership role after Everton midfielder, Steven Pienaar, announced his retirement from international soccer.
The squad does not include veteran forward, Benni McCarthy.
South African coach, Gordon Igesund, knows expectations will be high for the team to perform at a high level and repeat its 1996 feat of winning the crown on home soil.
“We are now embarking on a long and difficult mission and we cannot do it alone,” said Igesund. “Your support (the home fans) will be very crucial to see us through. “Now that the final squad has been selected, the focus is now on the tournament.”
South Africa is in the same group with Cape Verde, Angola and 1976 winners Morocco.
This year’s 16-team tournament runs from January 19 to February 10.
Meanwhile, Liberia’s Soccer Association has dismissed coach Kaetu Smith and his assistants after poor results during their seven months on the job. Liberia drew three times and suffered two losses under the coaching team in World Cup and Nations Cup qualifiers.
“Someone has to take responsibility for the team’s dismal showing and in this case it’s the coach,” said the country’s soccer association president, Musa Bility. “We also understand that the players lack commitment, patriotism and emotion for their country.”
Bility added that retired FIFA World, European and African Soccer Player of the Year, George Weah, will head the committee to find a replacement.
By RON FANFAIR