x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Explosive duo must strike right notes

Two strikers, Drogba and Zaki, will be in the spotlight tonight when Hull host Chelsea, and both potential matchwinners have their own points to prove.

Two strikers will be in the spotlight tonight when Hull host Chelsea, and both have their own points to prove. The Africa Cup of Nations was widely expected to be the stage for Didier Drogba to transfer his phenomenal club form to the international arena with the Ivory Coast. Yet he returned to Chelsea without the prize after subdued displays for his country, who surprisingly fell to Algeria in the quarter- finals.

Drogba looked a shadow of the man who had pummelled Premier League defences before the turn of the year. His 19th goal of the season against Fulham before he left epitomised someone at the top of their game, but he was on the scoresheet just once in Angola. Carlo Ancelotti left him out of the 2-1 win against Burnley on Saturday and the rest might well have helped Drogba, physically and psychologically.

He admitted the shootings in Cabinda, which killed two of the Togo team's travelling party and their bus driver, had left his squad "shattered". Reputations, particularly for strikers, can be made and ruined in a matter of a few games, as Amr Zaki discovered last season. An explosive early impact on loan at Wigan saw him linked with Manchester United, Liverpool, Real Madrid and Chelsea, where Luiz Felipe Scolari, the former manager, considered pairing Zaki with Drogba. Yet by the end of that campaign, his stock had fallen and the then Wigan manager Steve Bruce, angered by the player's "unprofessional" attitude, could not wait to send him back to his Egyptian club Zamalek.

Phil Brown, though, has given the frontman another chance at this level with Hull. He said: "There seems to be that fire in the belly that we saw when he first came into English football with Wigan. That's the Amr Zaki that we want to see." Zaki was part of the Egypt team that won the Africa Cup of Nations in 2006 and 2008. Injury meant he was left out of this year's squad and he could only watch on television as the Pharaohs claimed a third title in a row.

Saving Hull from relegation might be Zaki's own defining moment in 2010. The loan signing is a gamble, but as he showed at Wigan, Zaki can score goals. Zaki was a determined figure when he came off the bench in Saturday's 2-2 draw with Wolves. He could be handed a full debut tonight as Brown added: "He was certainly bright, sharp and technically very good. He looks an angry man to me and I hope he keeps that anger."

The Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has denied media reports from England and Italy that he has agreed to join Juventus next season. Alberto Zaccheroni is in charge of the Juventus team until the end of the season after replacing the fired Ciro Ferrara last week, but Benitez said he has "no agreement with Juventus and have not and will not be meeting Juventus or their representatives or any other club."

@Email:akhan@thenational.ae Hull City v Chelsea, 10.45pm, Showsports 1 & 2