In the absence of Cameroon and Samuel Eto’o from this year’s Africa Cup of Nations, the opening round of matches from Group D sees arguably the tournament’s two headline strikers take the stage as Didier Drogba’s Ivory Coast take on Emmanuel Adebayor’s Togo.
Both forwards come into this tournament in starkly contrasting circumstances. As captain of the Elephants, the legendary Drogba is the undoubted leader in a star-studded squad that is finally attempting to lift the continental trophy after two final defeats on penalties, in 2006 and last year in 2012. For Drogba, lifting the title in Soccer City on the February 10 would crown a career that has seen him win everything, except that elusive international title.
On the other hand, Adebayor’s mere participation in this tournament has been in question for some time. After retiring from international football after the tragedy of Togo’s last appearance in the Cup of Nations in 2010, when the team was forced to withdraw after the coach in which they were travelling came under gunfire in Angola, the Tottenham striker returned to the international fold last year.
However, despite helping his side qualify for South Africa 2013, Adebayor has toyed between taking part in the competition, citing fears for his personal safety after the events of Angola 2010, rows over payments – as seems to be the norm with the Togo national team – and the desires of his club manager Andre Villas-Boas, who had been keen to retain his services.
But Adebayor has indeed travelled and will certainly spearhead the Sparrow Hawks’ starting XI as they face the unenviable prospect of trying to contain an Ivory Coast side that, besides Drogba, can also call upon Yaya Toure, Gervinho, Salomon Kalou and Arouna Kone. The Elephants though have had the majority of those names for every tournament since 2006 but it would not be a stretch to say that they have yet to truly take an Africa Cup of Nations by storm.
Often they have looked cagey, as if weighed down by the huge pressure on their shoulders. If Togo can keep it tight at the back and give Adebayor enough chances, then a shock early result could be on the cards. However, one would expect that after last year’s disappointment and with a highly motivated Drogba, Sabri Lamouchi’s team should have enough to come through.
The group’s other game sees an all-North African clash as Tunisia face Algeria in what looks to be a vital game to decide who progresses alongside the Ivory Coast into the quarter-finals. Though both have inexperienced squads compared to those of yesteryear, both were quietly confident coming into the tournament, though surprisingly it is Algeria who actually boast the greater names in European football, with Valencia’s Sofiane Feghouli looking to build on a breakthrough year by showcasing his prodigious talent to the tournament. Expect a relatively tight encounter with only the odd goal in it if either side are to indeed make the breakthrough.