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BIG KICK-OFF FOR DIDIER

Posted on 21 January 2008  - 12:00

Didier Zokora admits the pressure is on for his Ivory Coast team in the African Cup of Nations.

Didier Zokora admits the pressure is on for his Ivory Coast team in the African Cup of Nations.

The 'Elephants' kick-off in the tournament against Nigeria at 5pm this afternoon (Monday January 21) and the midfielder is part of a squad that includes the likes of Chelsea pair Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou, Arsenal’s Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue and Sevilla’s Arouna Kone and are grouped with Nigeria, Mali and Benin.

As Didier explains, they are expected to do well. “We are one of the favourites for the tournament but there is a lot of pressure on our players because the media and even the president has told us we need to win the African Nations Cup!

“If we don’t win the people in our country will be disappointed because football is like a religion back home and as we have such a strong team, we are expected to win.

“It won’t be easy though because everyone wants to beat us with the players we have. They see the names in our team and they raise their game because they want to win.

“I think our hardest game will be against Mali, who have good players including Fredi Kanoute, Seydou Keita and Mahamadou Diarra, but our first game against Nigeria is so important. They have strong strikers – Kanu, Yakubu, Martins – and will make it tough for us.

“But I am confident the Ivory Coast can win the tournament because we have such a strong side.”

Didier is hoping to emulate his country’s success in 1992, when they won the tournament thanks to a dramatic 11-10 penalty shoot-out win against Ghana in Senegal. It was a victory that sparked wild celebrations in the Ivory Coast, which Zokora remembers well.

“I was a young boy when we won it and everyone went crazy and the streets were full of people cheering, it was amazing,” he said. “For our country it was a fantastic achievement and I would love to win it again to give as much pleasure again to the people back home.

“When I watched that team winning in 1992, it made me want to be like those players, it inspired me to become a successful footballer and I think it helped a whole generation of new Ivory Coast players, which we have today.”

As well as their continental title, the Ivory Coast will be fighting for a place at the 2010 World Cup next year, having been drawn in a group containing the unlikely footballing nations of Mozambique, Madagascar and Botswana. It’s doubtful whether any Spurs player has ever had to face such interesting trips before and Didier knows these are places which can be difficult to play football.

“It is completely different from playing games in Europe. The pitches are not too good and the teams sometimes play an aggressive style of football because they want to cause an upset against us. We played Madagascar before and won 5-0 and 3-0, so we should be able to win these games again.”