Will Africa's Elephants Be Snakebitten Again?
As their 2013 Africa Cup of Nations campaign gets under way today, the Ivory Coast and its football fans are tired of hearing their side is the perennial favorite. And they're even more weary of hearing what that has implied over the past five years. Namely, that their collection of stars hasn't lived up to the hype.
The Elephants kick off against Togo with captain Didier Drogba eager to atone for an atrocious attempt from the spot during the 70th minute in last year's final that presaged the Coast's poor performance on penalties, which in turn snuffed out the last flicker of hope that they would at last be crowned as the continent's champions. This time around, Drogba's supporting cast is one of the most prominent in the competition, what with Yaya and Kolo Touré, Abdul Razak, and former Tottenham Hotspur Didier Zakora being very familiar with -- and with the exception of this tourney, fairly accomplished on -- the international stage.
Could Togo possess the venom to bring down the favorites this year? They fit the history of their role. Last year, it was a virtually toothless Zambia squad that took the Elephants to penalties in the final and wound up prevailing, not for anything they did, but for what the glittering Ivory Coast roster didn't do. Specifically, the Elephants flashed inspired bits of individual brillance all during the match that looked good as video clips but proved incapable of meshing into a single goal against a side that wasn't going to score that day even if it was on the pitch all by itself.
Tunisia and Algeria aren't much stronger, but it's against such mice that the Elephants had best set the tone for their anticipated confrontation against this tournament's real challengers: Ghana and Nigeria. The battle-tested foes have illustrious histories, too, and titles are quite fittingly a part of them. Ghana has won this event four times while Nigeria has done it twice.
The window of opportunity may be closing soon on the Ivory Coast's biggest stars as their careers shimmer into dusk. Blended with rising young luminaries such as Razak, the timing for a trophy may never be better, all of which means that this year, for once, they had best watch their step.