As the various football federations of the African nations make their final preparations for the 31st edition of the African Cup of Nations, there is a certain excitement in the air surrounding several countries and their chances to win the tournament. While the favorite to win the tournament in Gabon is by no means agreed on by all fans or experts, there are a couple of teams that seem to stand out ahead of the pack. Gabon, Ghana, and Senegal all have a chance to hoist the title at the end of the tournament. While many like these teams chances to bring the title home, the smart money may be on the team from the Ivory Coast.

The Elephants are one of the strongest teams in all of Africa, and they are coming off a title in the most recent version of the African Cup. In 2015, they beat Ghana in a finals match in Equatorial Guinea. From this championship run, the returning players have experienced the joy of victory, and they are ready to defend their crown in a big way. During the first week of the tournament, the Ivory Coast will take on the team from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the latest edition of the Federation of International Football Association’s rankings, the Ivory Coast is Africa’s second highest rated team with a ranking of 34. This trails only a Senegal team that is one spot higher than the Elephants. In these same rankings, the team from Congo is 14 spots behind the Ivory Coast.

Another reason for optimism for the team from the Ivory Coast in the first week of the Africa Cup of Nations 2017 is the fact that they will be getting the leading goal scorer from one of the top European club teams back to help them on their road to victory. Britain’s The Sun reports that Jonathan Kodjia will be joining his countrymen in Gabon to compete in the Africa Cup of Nations. While this is bad news for fans of Aston Villa, this is great news for Ivory Coast football fans who will get to see Aston Villa’s top goal scorer take on a team from the Democratic Republic of Congo that has three players coming to Gabon to take part in the action from various EPL teams. On the season, Kodija has nine goals for Aston Villa and looks to replicate his success against all opponents in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.

If the Ivory Coast is going to finish on the top of the Group C rankings, it is important that they get off on the right foot. Given their championship pedigree, it is safe to assume that they will not overlook Congo in week one. While the loss of Yaya Toure may be difficult to overcome, the champs will likely come out swinging in week one while they try to assert their dominance and send a loud message to the rest of the field.

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