Sol Bamba urges Ivory Coast to redeem themself as AFCON hosts

Sol Bamba urges Ivory Coast to redeem themself as AFCON hosts

Former Ivory Coast star Sol Bamba admits the Africa Cup of Nations hosts need to prove their worth.

The ex-Cardiff and Leeds defender believes the team have fallen short at the tournament too many times.

The hosts, who open the tournament against Guinea-Bissau in Abidjan on Saturday, have only won the competition twice, the last coming in 2015.

Final defeats in 2008 and 2012, with Bamba playing in their penalty loss to Zambia 12 years ago, still hurt and the 38-year-old knows it is time for the squad to step up.

"Have we done enough? We know we haven't because we should have won at least two more Africa Cup of Nations, definitely," he told the PA news agency.

"Losing in 2012 was huge because we hadn't won it since 1992. So we were absolutely desperate.

"We had what people called a golden generation with top players. We went as favourites, didn't concede a goal and we ended up losing. The disappointment was absolutely huge. We talk about it between ourselves, we felt we missed a trick.

"Now we have top players playing in Europe but the difference of handling pressure in Europe and hosting a tournament in Africa is different.

"The expectation will be huge. In Africa it's more than football. The first game will be massive. For Ivory Coast, though, winning games is not enough, you have to play a certain way."

Manager Jean-Louis Gasset has omitted Galatasaray's Wilfried Zaha for the tournament and Bamba hopes he does not regret the decision.

"It's controversial because he's a top player," said Bamba, who earned 46 caps for his country.

"When you're a top player you have to be picked for the national team. The manager said it was for the balance of the team, that they've got too many right-footed players on the wing.

"For me, this is an excuse. When you're a manager you need to pick your best players and it is your job to make them perform at the highest level.

"The most important thing is he doesn't really gel with the group, he keeps himself to himself. You also have to pick a team according to the dynamic of the group.

"The fans know it's the main reason he's not been picked. They had better have a good tournament otherwise everyone will be on his (Gasset's) back."

Seven-time champions Egypt, with Liverpool's Mohamed Salah spearheading their challenge, face Mozambique in Group B on Sunday and Senegal start their title defence against Gambia in Group C on Monday.

Senegal, with Tottenham midfielder Pape Sarr, are favourites with the final due to be held on February 11 at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan, leaving Premier League clubs waiting to see when their stars will return.

Ghana, coached by former Newcastle and Brighton boss Chris Hughton, boast West Ham's in form Mohamed Kudus and Crystal Palace's Jordan Ayew.

Arsenal will be without Thomas Partey (Ghana) and Mohamed Elneny (Egypt) while Nottingham Forest will miss seven players, including Cheikhou Kouyate and Serge Aurier, in a blow to new boss Nuno Espirito Santo.

Manchester United have Andre Onana (Cameroon), Sofyan Amrabat (Morocco) and Amad Diallo (Ivory Coast) away.

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