Clubmates set to collide

A host of English based players are on show when Nigeria play the Ivory Coast.

    Nigerian captain Nwankwo Kanu says his team is ready [AFP]

    Joining the fray of what many see as a bitter battle between the two side's overseas players are coaches Berti Vogts and Gerard Gili.

    Gili, a Frenchman, replaced Vogts' German compatriot Ulrich Stielike as Ivory Coast's manager this month while Vogts has led Nigeria for a little more than a year.

    Nigeria claimed Africa's most celebrated title in 1980 and 1994 while Ivory Coast won its only title in 1992.

    Monday's match will see Arsenal's Kolo Toure reuniting with Chelsea rivals Drogba and Salomon Kalou in hopes of giving the Elephants a crucial first group win.

    Toure and his Arsenal teammate Emmanuel Eboue will be forced to temporarily set aside their league differences with Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Didier Zokora, knowing a win against the continent's top-ranked team could provide an early boost to their championship aspirations.

    Zokora is likely to be joined in a three-man Ivory Coast midfield by Toure's Barcelona-based brother, Yaya, and possibly by Reading's Emerse Fae, setting the stage for a middle-of-the-pitch contest with Sunderland's Dickson Etuhu.

    Etuhu's skipper on the Nigerian side, Nwankwo Kanu, and Portsmouth clubmate John Utaka could form the Nigerian front line with familiar foe Obafemi Martins of Newcastle United in an all-Premiership strike force.

    "We are ready,'' Kanu said. "The spirit is high with every player.''

    Also eager to earn a place in the Nigeria's starting lineup will be forward Yakubu Aiyegbeni, a regular starter at Everton.

    Vogts, who led Germany to a European Championship crown in 1996, said his players were showing the "right attitude'' and likewise commended the Nigerian federation for having "also shown support.''

    "With all this, I believe that the team cannot fail,'' he said.

    Everton's Joseph Yobo could be paired with Watford's Danny Shittu in the Nigerian defense as Vogts tries to contain Drogba, whose lone goal in the 2006 semifinals eliminated Nigeria.

    Despite the win, Ivory Coast lost the final to Egypt in a penalty shootout after a 0-0 draw, handing the Pharaohs a record fifth title.

    Mali v Benin

    The battle for regional dominance is set to continue Monday with Group B's other West African nation Mali taking on Benin, a country of just over 8 million people.

    A second-place finish one point behind Mali in qualifying helped Benin secure only its second tournament appearance as one of three best runners-up.

    Mali, a semifinalist in 2002 and 2004, is looking for its first crown and will turn to the likes of Sevilla's Frederic Kanoute and Real Madrid's Mahamoudu Diarra for experience and goals while Benin has an experienced coach in Germany's Reinhard Fabisch.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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