ACN Watch: Emmanuel Eboue and Cote d’IvoireBy
It seems just like yesterday when festivities in Ghana culminated in a final that pitted Cameroon, 4 time winners of the Africa Cup of Nations crown, against Egypt, the most successful African nation in the tournament. Egypt went on to win their 6th title since the inception of the biennial competition in 1957.
We’re at it again, this time in Angola. Arsenal has only 2 players representing their respective countries this time round, and whilst they’ll be thoroughly missed in the cold throws of the English Premier League – it’s always positive for our players to have good games in continental tournaments. The confidence and experience that they pick up in such tournaments bodes well for Arsenal and makes them better players all round.
In 2 instalments, I’ll briefly examine the prospects that Cote d’Ivoire and Cameroon have during this world cup year. Both of these countries have qualified for the World cup finals in South Africa, and the Arsenal stars – Emmanuel Eboue for Cote d’Ivoire and Alex Song for Cameroon – are pivotal players for their country.
Ivory Coast are considered by many bookmakers as outright favourites to win the Africa cup of nations. The most logical reason given for this is their star studded squad of elite players and their free flowing football. I don’t think that it’ll be that straight forward for them and it’s somewhat simplistic to look at the team sheet and say that the Ivory Coast ’Elephants’ are strong on paper. Football is played on grass, and I believe the Cameroonian’s, Egyptians and the ’Black Stars’ of Ghana will have something to say about the final destination of the ACN title.
Nevertheless, with Didier Drogba, Salamon Kalou, Kolo Toure, Emanuel Eboue, Yaya Toure, Didier Zokora and many other stars seen week in week out in European club football – the ’Elephants’ will pull in the crowds. From the point of view of a spectacle, Vahid Halilhodzic’s team does carry the sign ’Come see Hollywood here’ if you will.
Ivory Coast had a pretty straight forward 2nd round qualification root to the tournament collecting 12 points as group leaders in an undefeated campaign against Mozambique, Botswana and Madagascar. In the 3rd round qualification, which also saw them qualify for the World cup finals, they coasted past Guinea, Malawi and Burkina Faso.
In Angola, the ’Elephants’ face Togo in the opening game of the tournament. They will also face Burkina Faso and The ’Black Stars’ of Ghana.
Expectations are high, especially with the combination of the Yugoslav coach Halilhodzic, and a group of players perceived to be the most talented in Africa. Halilhodzic is renowned for running a tight ship and employing no nonsense boot camp tactics in training. With this being his first major tournament as manager of the ’Elephants’, much is expected from both team and manager. Although this is Ivory Coast’s 18th appearance in this tournament, they’ve only won the competition once in 1992. However, the expectation, especially after their humiliating exit last time round at the hands of Egypt is quite high – no pressure there for Emmanuel Eboue and his team-mates then.
Eboue will join former Arsenal star Kolo Toure in defence and the tournament is undoubtedly a stage for Eboue to express himself. Last season, no one would have blamed the young man if he wanted to throw in the towel and move away from Arsenal, especially after a nightmare of a game against Wigan Athletic, when Wenger substituted him for well, his own safety. He had a howler of a match and was booed off the pitch by the Emirates faithful.
Eboue though, has knuckled down and proven to himself, his team mates and Arsenal fans that he indeed has value to add to our Arsenal team. Not only is he very effective in covering for Bacary Sagna, his penetrative runs and power in midfield have proved a valuable tool for Arsenal’s style of play. Wenger once said that Eboue is in the squad because he adds balance. And without a doubt, it’s now clear to see what Wenger meant. Eboue is our most versatile utility player who can do a very competent job in at least 4 positions, and is the sort of player every top team needs in their squad.
It’ll be interesting to see how he influences play for Cote dIvoire as they try and fulfil the huge promise and expectation on their shoulders.
Also, if you don’t already know, I right a weekly column about Arsenal on A Cultured Left Foot. Make sure you check out my piece today outlining 8 reasons why Arsenal can win the title this season.