Can the Elephants go one better?
[GALLO/GETTY]
Gripped by football fever in the run up to the Africa Nations Cup in Ghana, Ivory Coast fans have turned to prayer to help their "Elephants" clinch the title that they missed out on two years ago.

In a mosque in the economic capital Abidjan and in a basilica in the political capital Yamoussoukro which is modelled on the Vatican's St. Peter's, fans have turned to prayer in the hope of football glory.

"We've spoken to God with a sincere, open heart and God has always answered our prayers. That's why I'm optimistic. We're going to win the Cup," said the Imam, Cisse, after prayers at a mosque in Abidjan's poor Treichville quarter.

"May God give us the victory, may God give us the Cup," he said, prompting a chorus of "Amen" from bystanders.

The Mama Elephants, the group of women supporters who organised the prayer sessions, are preparing for the 8-hour road trip to neighbouring Ghana where they will sing, shout and dance support for the team led by Chelsea's Didier Drogba, Africa's player of the year in 2006.

"We organised these prayers to entrust our national team, the Elephants, to God so he will help them go far in the Africa Nations Cup," said Evelyne Kassy, who is planning the journey for around 100 "Mamas" who will attend the first games.

The Elephants' prowess in the 2006 Cup, when they were beaten only in the final by host nation Egypt, and a good performance at the World Cup months later, gave a lift to a population struggling to overcome a 2002-2003 civil war.

Once again colourful unofficial Elephant merchandise is readily available in Abidjan as street vendors ditch the sunglasses and counterfeit electrical goods many of them peddle year-round, to sell flags, Drogba posters and T-shirts.

Comparatively wealthy because it grows nearly half the world's cocoa, the West African state is still divided into a rebel-held north and government south since the war.

But a peace deal last year has made some progress to reunification and elections.

As is customary when Ivorian fans go abroad, they plan to set up a "village" to provide Ivorian cuisine at makeshift outdoor bars that will blast out Ivorian pop music renowned throughout this corner of the continent.

"I'll be in Ghana to support our national team and bring home the Cup like in 1992. Ghana's just next door. We'll be partying like in Abidjan, no problem," said computer engineer Ali Konate.

Source: Agencies