x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Time is now for Ivory Coast to show their ability

This African Nations Cup is the last chance for many of the Ivory Coast's golden generation of players.

Ivory Coast beat Tunisia in a warm-up friendly match in Abu Dhabi earlier this month.
Ivory Coast beat Tunisia in a warm-up friendly match in Abu Dhabi earlier this month.

Yaya Toure believes it could be the last chance for Ivory Coast's golden generation to win the African Cup of Nations.

The Manchester City midfielder knows that senior players such as the captain Didier Zokora, the record goalscorer Didier Drogba and Yaya's older brother, Kolo, might not get another opportunity to become champions of their continent.

The Ivorians have not triumphed since 1992 but are one of the favourites after qualifying with a 100 per cent record while eight of the nine previous winners failed to earn a place in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

Toure and his teammates begin their campaign against Sudan tonight. Burkina Faso, who are playing in their first Cup of Nations, and Angola are their other opponents in Group B. In a tournament lacking traditional powers such as Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria and Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Ghana are expected to be the tournament's heavyweights.

"You have still Ghana, you have Morocco, but we have our chance," said Toure, the reigning African Footballer of the Year. "But with no Egypt, who are such a great team, we have a chance to win this year."

The Ivorians were runners-up in 2006, losing a penalty shootout to Egypt, before successive quarter-final exits. It has given Toure a burning ambition to win the final in Libreville on February 12.

"Yeah, because we always have this in our hearts because we have such a fantastic team," he said. "It is a great national team with Drogba, with Salomon Kalou, with amazing players, but we have still not won this competition. We need to win it. I hope this year will be it."

While a younger generation, including Gervinho, Max Gradel and Cheik Tiote has emerged, the spine of Francis Zahoui's side is hugely experienced. Drogba turns 34 in March, while Zokora, Kolo Toure, his fellow defender Siaka Tiene and the goalkeeper Boubacar Barry are the other veterans in the side.

Yaya Toure, who is 28, spans the two eras but realises that the passing of the years makes the Ivorians' need to win the more pressing. The most gifted group of players in the country's history - indeed the only Ivorians to play in one World Cup, let alone two - have no silverware to show for their considerable skills.

Their time, Toure, said, is now. "Yeah, I think so. Players start to get older, like Didier, but we have young players who are fantastic, they work hard with the tactics and we have to work hard to keep our place on the pitch. We have a chance to win something because we have a fantastic national team and we have to do something to make history."

Football is one way of uniting a troubled land. Ivory Coast has been embroiled in a civil war for much of the past decade, with the country split between the Muslim north and the Christian south. The Toure brothers are Muslims, but Yaya hopes the Elephants can galvanise the entire nation with their performances over the next three weeks.

"It would be special because with the war in our country for 10 years we have had problems with the politicians," he said. "I think for the public and the national team, we welcome this cup for the people who have suffered. Some people die, some of my friends and some of my family, some people I know here are not here."

sports@thenational.ae