MALABO, January 14 – One of the few survivors of the Ivory Coast’s feted golden generation, this year’s Africa Cup of Nations may well be the last chance for Yaya Toure to finally win a major international trophy.
With the great Didier Drogba and Didier Zokora having retired from the international game since last year’s World Cup in Brazil, the 31-year-old Toure and his elder brother Kolo are the only men in the Elephants’ squad in Equatorial Guinea who featured in the 2006 Cup of Nations final.
That penalty shoot-out defeat to Egypt in Cairo and the dramatic loss to Zambia in the 2012 final in Libreville are as agonisingly close as the Ivorians have come to winning the continental crown for the first time since 1992.
And Toure, who has played in three World Cup campaigns and is now preparing for his sixth Cup of Nations, must be aware that time is running out for him to add a winners’ medal with his country to the many from his glittering club career.
The Manchester City star is still at the peak of his powers and is fresh from winning the African Footballer of the Year award for an unprecedented fourth successive year, pipping Borussia Dortmund and Gabon forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Lille’s Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama to take the prize.
He was also the only African to make the shortlist for the 2014 FIFA Ballon d’Or, eventually finishing 14th in the voting.
But that has been almost entirely down to his performances for City, whom he helped win last season’s Premier League title by netting 20 goals from midfield thanks to his superb shot and his trademark surging runs from midfield.
He has seven goals in 18 Premier League games this term, and despite his languid demeanour at times, has covered more ground than any City player this season.
– City’s loss, Elephants’ gain –
Indeed, City have not won a Premier League game in which Toure has been missing since April last year, so it is little wonder that his manager Manuel Pellegrini is worried about having to do without him over the next few weeks.
“He is a very important player. We cannot say it doesn’t matter that Yaya is not here,” admitted Pellegrini last week.
City’s loss is of course the Ivory Coast’s gain, as they prepare to take on Guinea, Mali and Cameroon in a tough Group D in Equatorial Guinea.
The Elephants scraped through in qualifying following the appointment last summer of Herve Renard, the mastermind of Zambia’s triumph against the Ivory Coast in the 2012 CAN final.
When Renard was named, Toure spoke glowingly of the elegant Frenchman, saying: “It’s a super decision because he is someone who has a lot of experience of Africa. He is someone with lots of charisma and he knows what it takes to win the CAN.
“Before I retire I really want to win something with my country. I hope that Herve Renard will take us as far as possible.”
Toure’s only goals in qualifying came in defeats against Cameroon and DR Congo, but he will be hoping the Elephants can find their best form when it really matters and justify the decision to bring in Renard.
Meanwhile, Renard himself will be hoping Toure can reproduce the kind of performances on the international stage that make him practically unstoppable on his day in the Premier League.