World Cup dark horses: can Ivory Coast win in Brazil?
Will an African nation finally win the cup this year? Ivory Coast have the firepower to make it happen
It was Brazilian legend Pele who said that an African nation would win the World Cup by the year 2000. He turned out to be wrong – but 14 years on, could an African nation finally win the World Cup in Brazil?
Of the five African teams at the tournament, it is Ivory Coast who have the best chance. Their squad features some established stars, some emerging talents and they have an easy-looking group, plus the possibility of facing England in the last 16.
In 2010 Ghana, who were not well fancied, came within a Luis Suarez handball of making the semi-finals. Can the Elephants of Ivory Coast go one better?
Players to watch: In Yaya Toure Ivory Coast have one of the world's greatest midfielders – just don't forget his birthday. His brother Kolo provides experience at the back along with Didier Zokora, once of Spurs. Young right back Serge Aurier is one to watch, but it is up front where the power lies. First there is the ageing Didier Drogba, who may no longer be the force of nature he once was, but is certainly a handful. Alongside him is Gervinho, unrecognisable as the player who became a laughing stock at Arsenal, and Salomon Kalou, who will be remembered from his time at Chelsea. The Elephants' secret weapon, though, could be Swansea striker Wilfried Bony.
Why they could win it: This is the country's third successive World Cup and they will be determined to get out of the group stage at last. If they do, the draw could open up for them. Ivory Coast are unbeaten in 21 World Cup qualifiers and only lost the 2012 African Cup of Nations final on penalties.
With so much attacking firepower the Elephants have the capacity to trample almost anyone. "Just thinking of the prospect of facing Drogba and Bony will send chills down the spine of opposition defenders and if the two strikers perform to their full capabilities, Ivory Coast will surprise quite a few people in Brazil," says Winner Sports.
Coach Sabri Lamouchi has built on the "aggressive foundations" left by his predecessor Francois Zahoui, says ESPN. "It would be crazy for any coach to set up this team in anything but an attacking way. And... Lamouchi is certainly nowhere near certifiable."
At the other end of the pitch things things do not appear as rosy, but there is some steel in the team. Prior to the 2012 penalty shoot-out against Zambia, the Elephants had not conceded a single goal in the tournament. And such is the talent at his disposal that Lamouchi has even been able to leave out error-prone Emmanuel Eboue. That may make the Elephants less entertaining but should also make them rather more watertight.
Why they might not:Despite Eboue's absence and their run in 2012, the defence is still liable to implode. And by giving his attacking stars free reign "Lamouchi has failed to establish a clear directive for the team", says ESPN's Shaka Hislop.
There is also a lack of a team ethic. It might sound rich, but even professional sulker Emmanuel Adebayor sees that as a problem. "They are the country that will always let you down," says the Togolese. "They have got the best striker in Europe in Didier Drogba. They have got the best midfielder today, Yaya Toure.
"But there's no togetherness. They will be talking, laughing and enjoying themselves but, when the time comes, they will forget about their job. Everyone wants to be like a hero and that is what is killing Ivory Coast."
How far can they go?If they can win their group then it could be England in the last 16. After that Brazil may be waiting for them in the quarter finals.
What the bookies think:They may be the best team from Africa but the bookies don't rate them. The Elephants are 14/1 to make the semi-finals and 125/1 to win the whole thing.