Johannesburg - Recent Manchester United recruit Eric Bailly
is part of the Ivory Coast squad hoping this weekend to secure a place at the
2017 Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Gabon.
The 22-year-old centre-back joined the English Premier
League outfit during the close season from Spanish La Liga side Villarreal in a
reported $43.7 million (38.4 million euros) deal.
Bailly was the first signing by new Red Devils manager Jose
Mourinho and has helped his club win three consecutive league matches at the
start of the season.
On Saturday in Bouake his attention will switch to ensuring
the 'Elephants' get a chance to defend the African title they won last year
after a penalty shootout against Ghana.
Ivory Coast, ranked third in Africa behind Algeria and
Ghana, need a draw against Sierra Leone to win Group I while a shock loss would
eliminate the two-time champions.
Bailly is a likely starter, but Manchester City midfielder
Yaya Toure and striker Wilfried Bony were not chosen by 57-year-old French
coach Michel Dussuyer.
Midfielder Toure, not a first choice since the close-season
arrival of manager Pep Guardiola, last played for his country in the 2015 Cup
of Nations final 19 months ago.
Also read: Ivorian defender Bailly set to be Mourinho's first signing
Bony, who has joined Stoke City on a season-long loan, is
missing from an attack that does have a Premier League presence in the shape of
Max Alain Gradel from Bournemouth.
Another notable absentee from the strike force is Salomon
Kalou of German Bundesliga outfit Hertha Berlin, who is mourning the death of
his father and an aunt.
Sierra Leone, who sit 19 places below Ivory Coast in the
African rankings, prepared in Accra under their Ghana-born coach Sellas Tettah
to avoid pressure from supporters at home.
"My squad includes many young footballers who have
never competed at the Cup of Nations and tackling Ivory Coast is a massive
challenge for them," he told reporters.
"All I am asking of them is that they play to their
limit and when the final whistle blows they can look at each other and know
they did their country proud."
The teams fought a dour 0-0 first round draw last year in a
match moved from Sierra Leone to Nigeria because of the Ebola virus.
Ivory Coast are among 14 nations chasing six places, and
hoping to join already-qualified Algeria, Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana,
Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Morocco, Senegal and Zimbabwe plus hosts Gabon.
Democratic Republic of Congo hold a two-point lead over
neighbours Central African Republic so a draw before an expected 80,000
Kinshasa crowd will ensure the hosts progress from Group B.
Stephane Sessegnon-inspired Benin visit fellow unbeaten
Group C side Mali needing maximum points to be certain of qualifying.
If Burkina Faso and Uganda use home advantage to defeat
Botswana and the Comoros respectively, both will secure finals places.
The Burkinabe will top the standings and the Ugandans will
claim a place for the first time since 1978 as one of the best two runners-up.
Group A is the most intriguing with leaders Liberia, Tunisia
(10 points each) and Claude Le Roy-coached Togo (eight) all contenders for top
A win for Tunisia or Liberia in Monastir will settle the
issue, but if that match ends goalless, Togo can sneak through provided they
overcome whipping boys Djibouti in Lome.
Other countries with mathematical chances of qualifying as
one of the best two runners-up include Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Mauritania and
The Cup of Nations draw is scheduled for October 19 in
Libreville and the tournament will be played between January 14 and February 5.For
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