African champion Ivory Coast still in celebration mode
African Cup champion Ivory Coast will still be celebrating when it returns to action this week, giving a final call-up to retired pair Boubacar Barry and Kolo Toure to allow them to go out in front of a home crowd.
Barry, the goalkeeper who became the star of the penalty shootout victory in last month’s African Cup of Nations final, and Toure were both given honorary places in a 28-man squad for friendlies against Angola on Thursday and Equatorial Guinea — the country where they won the African title — on Sunday.
Barry and Toure announced their retirement from international soccer after the African Cup. They will now get to say farewell at Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium in Abidjan.
Ivory Coast coach Herve Renard picked all 23 players from the African Cup as the federation announced it would use the games to honor its winning squad. That means Yaya Toure, Wilfried Bony and Gervinho will also travel for the friendlies.
Losing African Cup finalist Ghana has set up two tough games for FIFA’s international window as its moves on from its loss. The team faces Senegal and Mali in France in four days. Those teams have both reacted to poor African Cup campaigns by firing their coaches.
Former national team captain Aliou Cisse is now in charge of Senegal, while Alain Giresse left to return for another spell as Mali coach. Cisse’s biggest decision in his first Senegal squad was to recall former Chelsea striker Demba Ba, who was left out for the African Cup by Giresse.
For Ghana, the games give coach Avram Grant a chance to start planning for 2017 African Cup qualifying — the next mission for the continent’s teams — after he had barely a month to prepare for this year’s tournament. Qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia then starts in October.
Top-ranked African team Algeria has games against Qatar and Oman in Doha, while Tunisia travels to China and Morocco will face Uruguay at home on Saturday.
Morocco was thrown out of the 2017 and 2019 African Cups after declining to host this year. The Moroccans have said they don’t agree with that punishment from the African confederation and indicated they will appeal.
Nigeria has a hastily-arranged game against Uganda on Wednesday after Bolivia pulled out, citing fears over an attack by Nigeria’s Boko Haram extremist group. Nigeria said Bolivia “chickened out” and said it will take legal action against Bolivia through FIFA for breach of contract.
Goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama has a chance to make his 100th appearance for Nigeria if he plays against the Ugandans or against South Africa on Sunday. Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi has been in negotiations over a new contract, but the Nigerian Football Federation has not made any announcement and Keshi has been applying for other jobs.
After another disappointing tournament, four-time African champion Cameroon’s matches away in Indonesia and Thailand have led to more criticism of the team and the national federation, which is still being controlled by a normalization committee set up nearly two years ago in the absence of proper football elections.
Former great Roger Milla said lowly-ranked Indonesia and Thailand were not good enough opposition and the national team would gain more by playing a local Cameroonian club.
“How can a country like Cameroon pick such football nonentities for international friendlies?” Milla said.
In other games, surprise African Cup semifinalist Congo plays Iraq in the United Arab Emirates and 29-year-old Johnny McKinstry, one of the youngest coaches in international soccer, takes charge of Rwanda for the first time against 2012 African champion Zambia.
Egypt, still wary of the threat of violence at football games at home after a deadly stampede last month, meets Equatorial Guinea in neutral Morocco on Thursday.