Zaha Boost for Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast want Crystal Palace flier Wilfried Zaha to replace injured Gervinho as they try to become only the fourth country to successfully defend the Africa Cup of Nations title.
Egypt have achieved the feat three times in the 60-year-old African football showcase and Ghana and Cameroon once each.
But two of those successful defences came when the competition was in its infancy with much smaller fields than the 16 teams who will challenge for glory in Gabon from Saturday.
After the Ivorian Elephants achieved the first of their two Cup of Nations triumphs 25 years ago, they finished third when defending the title after falling to Nigeria in the semifinals.
Abidjan-born Zaha was brought up in England and made two friendly appearances for his adopted country, but never featured in a competitive game.
Ivory Coast sent France-born coach Michel Dussuyer and several national football federation officials to London, and they successfully persuaded him to change his international allegiance.
“I had ample time to analyse my situation and take into account the solicitations of the Ivorian Football Federation,” said Zaha.
“Now I want to play with the Ivory Coast, primarily because I am proud to represent my country.
“The Ivorian selection includes quality players and has always been a reservoir of talent.”
A long-term injury to former Arsenal and Roma attacker Gervinho makes the acquisition of Zaha timely for the Ivorians as they prepare for a difficult African title defence.