Afcon 2017: Ivory Coast, DR Congo, Morocco, Togo square off in Group C

Stade d'Oyem
Group C matches will take place at the brand new Stade d'Oyem

IVORY COAST:

Nickname: Elephants

Africa Cup of Nations High Point: Champions (1992, 2015)

How they qualified: The defending champions were not at their best in a three-team group but qualified having won only one of their four matches.

Team Guide: With Yaya and Kolo Toure, Didier Zokora and Didier Drogba now out of the picture, this team is very much a work in progress.

The Elephants arrive in Gabon as the defending champions having beaten Ghana on penalties to clinch the title two years ago.

On paper, this group is theirs to lose despite being drawn against two teams with a point to prove in the shape of DR Congo and Morocco.

Morocco and the Ivorians are also in the same 2018 World Cup qualifying group.

Winning back-to-back trophies, they say, is the measure of a great team and given the squad at their disposal, retaining the title is not outside the realms of possibility.

The Elephants have an impressively consistent record at the Nations Cup - they were finalists in 2006 and 2012, and reached the semi-finals in 2008.

Manchester United's Eric Bailly was a key member of the title-winning side in 2015
Manchester United's Eric Bailly was a key member of the title-winning side in 2015

The Coach: Michel Dussuyer has worked previously as national coach of Guinea and Benin. The Frenchman was Ivory Coast's assistant coach, under Henri Michel, when they lost in the 2006 final to hosts Egypt.

Key Player: Eric Bailly was a member of the title-winning side in 2015 and is developing into a world-class defender. His organisational skills at the heart of defence bring stability and security to the whole side.

How far will Ivory Coast go? It would be a major shock if they did not finish top of their group. The Elephants certainly have the personnel to progress into the business end of the tournament.

DR CONGO:

Nickname: Leopards

Africa Cup of Nations High Point: Champions (1968, 1974)

How they qualified: Without much drama. Five wins and one defeat saw them qualify from Group B as winners with a five-point cushion.

Team Guide: The Leopards have been regulars at the Nations Cup and finished third last time out - their best finish this century.

While they have produced some big talents over the years, it has been 42 long years since they last lifted the Nations Cup trophy.

With Yannick Bolasie sidelined by a long-term knee injury, the Congolese have been deprived of their most potent threat up front.

They are good without him, but are transformed into a very good team with him leading the line. His absence is a major blow to their hopes.

Cedric Bakambu will shoulder DR Congo's attacking burden in Yannick Bolasie's absence
Cedric Bakambu will shoulder the attacking burden in Yannick Bolasie's absence

The Coach: Since taking charge in 2014, Florent Ibenge has delivered a third-place Nations Cup finish in 2015 and, the following year, the African Nations Championship (CHAN). He combines his job with leading AS Vita Club, taking them to African Champions League final in 2014, and winning the DR Congo domestic title in 2015.

Key Player: Without Bolassie, the burden of responsibility falls on Cedric Bakambu of Spanish side Villareal. He has scored 24 goals so far for since joining them in 2014. Has yet to really do it for DR Congo. Could this be his time to shine?

How far will DR Congo go? It is never smart to write off the Leopards. However, on this occasion, do not be surprised to see them heading home after three matches. A lack of match-winners is going to hurt them.

MOROCCO:

Nickname: Atlas Lions

Africa Cup of Nations High Point: Champions, 1976

How they qualified: You have to respect the Atlas Lions, if only for this one fact: they were the first team to book their place in Gabon after playing some outstanding football in qualifying.

Team Guide: Morocco's chances of success have been hit by an injury list that includes midfielders Sofiane Boufal and Younes Belhanda.

African champions in 1976, the Atlas Lions have not missed any tournament since 1998 but at one point, it was impossible for them to be in Gabon.

Caf had banned them from both the 2017 and 2019 Nations Cups for pulling out of hosting the 2015 Nations Cup because of Ebola virus concerns.

The Court of Arbitration of Sport subsequently overturned the ban on appeal.

Morocco have disappointed at a number of recent tournaments, promising far more than they ultimately delivered.

But after an unbeaten qualifying campaign, the North Africans will arrive in Gabon oozing confidence.

The Coach: Herve Renard needs no introduction. Can the white-shirted one become first coach to win three Nations Cups with three different nations? The Frenchman led Ivory Coast to the title in 2015, following his success with Zambia in 2012. But will the decision to overlook Ajax's Hakim Ziyech come back to haunt him?

Herve Renard
Herve Renard is chasing an unprecedented third African title with three different countries

Key Player: Youssef El Arabi is a potential Player of the Tournament but he needs to rediscover his touch in front of goal. He is quick, strong and has a keen eye for the spectacular.

How far will Morocco go? Failure to come out of the group would be a disaster. After all, the Atlas Lions barely put a foot wrong in the qualifiers. They could well get to the final, although a semi-final exit is more probable.

TOGO:

Nickname: Sparrowhawks

Africa Cup of Nations High Point: Quarter-finals, 2013

How they qualified: Inconsistency plagued them throughout qualifying. They eventually snatched one of the two slots reserved for the best runners-up among the 13 groups.

Team Guide: Togo reached the knock-out stage at the 2013 finals - the last one they contested.

The Sparrowhawks have only won three group games in their history - and only one in the last 16 years.

They also find themselves in one of the toughest groups of the tournament in their eighth Nations Cup appearance.

They will not be favourites in any of their matches as they seek to match - or even better - their quarter-final achievement at South Africa 2013.

Claude Le Roy
Claude Le Roy has reached the quarter-finals at seven out of eight Nations Cup appearances

The Coach: Gabon 2017 will be a record-extending ninth Nations Cup for Claude Le Roy, the much travelled Frenchman who has also coached Senegal, Cameroon, DR Congo (twice) Congo-Brazzaville and Ghana. The 66-year-old won the title with Cameroon in 1988 and has failed to reach the reached the quarter-finals only once.

Key Player: Does Emmanuel Adebayor, the 2008 African Footballer of the Year, have one more big tournament in him? That's the question all of Togo is asking. The 32-year-old has been without a club since being released by Crystal Palace some seven months ago.

How far will Togo go? With all due respect to the Hawks, there is very little to suggest that their stay in Gabon will be a long one. The seem to have neither the quality nor the depth of talent to make an impact.

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