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Friday, January 20, 2006
Ivory Coast face early Nations test

CAIRO, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Ivory Coast face a tricky start to their 2006 African Nations Cup campaign on Saturday when they take on 2004 finalists Morocco in Cairo.

Qualified for their first World Cup finals and boasting a strike force led by Chelsea's Didier Drogba, the Ivorians are expected to mount a serious challenge in Egypt as they look for for a second Nations Cup title since 1992.

Speaking at a kit launch on Thursday, Ivory Coast coach Henri Michel said: 'This is both a really important match, being our first of the tournament and against the 2004 finalists, and an extremely difficult one for us.

'I just hope that we come out on top, that we can make a good start to the competition and then keep it going.'

A candidate for the 2005 African Footballer of the Year award and prolific for his country, Drogba will bear much of the responsibility for leading his team safely out of Group A and into the quarter-finals.

The Moroccans have shaken off a sudden change of coach, with Mohamed Fakhir replacing Frenchman Philippe Troussier on New Year's Eve, and have strung together two wins and a draw in their recent friendlies.

Fakhir's men trounced Democratic Republic of Congo 3-0, beat Zimbabwe 1-0 and raced into an early 2-0 lead against Angola before settling for a 2-2 draw earlier this week.

Determined to make up for their failure to qualify for World Cup in Germany despite not losing a single game, Morocco are likely to soak up the early pressure and then to look to hit the Ivorians on the break.

Saturday will signal the start of an expected three-way battle involving Ivory Coast, Morocco and hosts Egypt for two places in the next stage with outsiders Libya tip

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