Football

Beware Ivory Coast's 'weapons'

With the inclusion of Zaha, Elephants' coach Dussuyer is confident of title defence

New-look Ivory Coast are ready to defend the African Nations Cup (ANC), which kicks off in Gabon tonight, buoyed by encouraging results and the impressive form of new recruit Wilfried Zaha.

The Crystal Palace winger hopes to make an impact in a competition that boasts Europe-based stars like Riyad Mahrez of Algeria, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Gabon and Sadio Mane of Senegal.

Zaha is a timely addition as many former stars like the Toure brothers Kolo and Yaya have retired and star winger Gervinho is injured.

Abidjan-born Zaha has opted to represent the African champions despite making two friendly appearances for adopted country England.

The 24-year-old set up the winning goal in a 2-1 warm-up win over Sweden last Sunday and scored in a 3-0 thumping of fellow ANC qualifiers Uganda on Wednesday.

Ahead of the training camp in the United Arab Emirates, France-born coach Michel Dussuyer admitted he was concerned about a lack of goals.

Ivory Coast are in a challenging Group C and kick off their campaign on Monday against Emmanuel Adebayor-captained Togo, followed by showdowns with the Democratic Republic of Congo and Morocco.

"The objective is, of course, to defend the title that was proudly acquired in 2015," said Dussuyer, one of 12 European or South American coaches in the 16-team tournament.

"It will not be easy. There are fine teams who aspire to win the trophy, but we have the weapons to go far."

Morocco are coached by Frenchman Herve Renard, who guided the Ivorians to their second ANC title two years ago.

"I have made reaching the quarter-finals an objective that we absolutely must attain. If we get there, then we will see what we can do," said Renard.

He also coached Zambia to glory the last time the ANC was staged in Gabon - and Equatorial Guinea - in 2012.

Lightning-quick Aubameyang carries the hopes of Gabon, who are expected to make the quarter-finals from a Group A that includes four-time champions but severely depleted Cameroon, Burkina Faso and shock qualifiers Guinea-Bissau.

MAGNIFICENT YEAR

As the Borussia Dortmund striker prepares to carry the hopes of the small central African nation on his shoulders, fleet-footed Mahrez will aim to top a magnificent 12 months by taking Algeria to the Feb 5 final and their first continental title since 1990.

Mahrez heads for Gabon fresh from winning the African Player of the Year prize for 2016, pipping last year's winner Aubameyang.

"The next thing after this award is the African Nations Cup. My team will try to do good things there," the Leicester City star said after securing the CAF prize.

Algeria and top-ranked African side Senegal - led by Liverpool forward Mane - are the major challengers to the Ivory Coast, who beat Ghana on penalties in the final in Equatorial Guinea two years ago.

But they will face each other in a Group B that also contains Tunisia and outsiders Zimbabwe.

Egypt are back in the ANC for the first time since winning a record seventh title in Angola in 2010 and will pin their hopes on Roma winger Mohamed Salah.

They will face Uganda, Mali and Ghana in Group D. - AFP

FIXTURES

TonightGroup A: Gabon v Guinea-Bissau (11.55pm)

Tomorrow

Group A: Burkina Faso v Cameroon (3am)

Group B: Algeria v Zimbabwe (11.55pm)

Monday

Group B: Tunisia v Senegal (3am)

Group C: Ivory Coast v Togo (11.55pm)

Tuesday

Group C: Congo v Morocco (3am)

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