Every new decade ushers in a generation of players of such ability that they would walk into most sides. However, alchemising these individual elements into a winning formula is far from an exact science, writes Alam Khan There have often been teams with so much talent that much is expected of them in the biggest tournaments. In a term first coined by the former English Football Association chief executive Adam Crozier, they are known as a particular country's "golden generation".
The Hungarian team of the 1950s featuring Ferenc Puskas, the Johan Cruyff-inspired Holland side of the 1970s, Zico's classy Brazil in the 1982 World Cup and England in the last decade. Yet the burden to succeed has often proved too much to bear. Failure has followed. After a period of under-achievement, the Ivory Coast are now regarded in the same vein. Their sole triumph at the African Cup of Nations came in 1992 and, having been drawn with Brazil and Portugal in the group stage, they face a daunting challenge to progress in this summer's World Cup finals in South Africa.
The pressure is immense for a side that contains an established and envied core of players plying their trade in the top leagues, such as Kolo Toure at Manchester City, his brother Yaya at Barcelona, Didier Zokora at Sevilla and the redoubtable Didier Drogba at Chelsea. It would not only disappoint the nation if they faltered once more, but the players too. "I agree with you on this," says Kolo Toure. "I'm really surprised we haven't won anything yet. If you look at the team, we are around the same age: 28 and 29. The generation is really good and we hope this trophy will come soon.
"It's going to be a massive year, especially this African Cup of Nations tournament in Angola. There is pressure, I can tell you. "In 2006, in Egypt we lost in the final and in 2008, in Ghana, everyone was expecting us to win and we failed against Egypt, again in the semi-finals. "In Angola we have to be really careful and concentrate and do our best because it can be a big problem for us if we don't win this cup."
Just like the World Cup, the Ivory Coast have the toughest group at the African Cup of Nations. They face Michael Essien's Ghana, Burkina Faso and an unpredictable Togo side led by Toure's City teammate, Emmanuel Adebayor. "It's a tough draw for both competitions, but we have to trust ourselves," adds Toure. "It depends on how much we believe and how much we play as a team. "At the minute we have a good team, but we have not won anything and that makes it exciting for each player to change this.
"That can help us raise our game, to finish top of the African Nations and go as far as possible in the World Cup. "For the African Nations, our people expect us to win it and for the World Cup, they are really scared of the group we're in. But it's in Africa and we want to do well at home. For now, though, we are focused on the African Nations. If we do well in this, we can expect to do well in the World Cup. This time spent together will help us to gel and work towards that."
According to Toure, their Bosnian coach, Vahid Halihodzic, has them better organised and they now "try to do the best for the team, not for each individual player". The spirit and camaraderie within the team will be a major factor in how far the Elephants progress. So will the performance of Drogba. The final group game against Togo will see him go head to head with Adebayor, his strike rival in the Premier League.
Toure, Drogba's countryman and a teammate of Adebayor at Arsenal and City, acknowledges the strength of both. "They both play for big clubs in the Premier League and are doing a great job scoring goals, so you see how good they are," he says. "They have different qualities, but are really tough. It's the first time I will play against Ade: he has been like my brother. "We always argue and we have been looking forward to playing against each other in this game. It's going to be a great challenge, but I hope I will be on the winning side."
Not only does Toure retain hope of success for his team, but also for the event: to help lift a nation that is trying to rebuild and regroup after the pain of civil war. The troubles in Cabinda, which will host the Ivory Coast in Group B, only ended as recently as 2006.Toure's own country has suffered similarly. "Angola has probably had it more than us. It's going to be important for this country to be successful in hosting this tournament," he says. "Football is so powerful and can have a good effect. "We wanted to bring our country together by what we did on the pitch. "We may be from different parts, but we can still work together and achieve things. "Now we want to bring back a trophy for our people." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org