Kalou tips Ghana to be Ivory Coast's biggest challengers

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The former Chelsea forward has backed the Black Stars to be the main contenders aside from his home nation at this year's AFCON tournament

Salomon Kalou believes Ghana will offer the biggest threat to Ivory Coast's hopes of defending the Africa Cup of Nations.

The tournament gets underway in Gabon on Saturday with Ivory Coast looking to retain the trophy they won in 2015 in Equatorial Guinea thanks to a penalty shoot-out victory over Ghana.

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And Hertha Berlin forward Kalou is tipping their west African neighbours to challenge once more.

He told Omnisport: "Ghana will be our biggest threat. They always will be, they're our neighbours.

"We are cool with them but we have competition with them. It's fun to play against them. I think they will be in the semi-final.

"Of course people expect us to do well because we're the defending champions. I think people expect us to at least reach the semis.

"When you've won it once you want to win it more. We have the right mentality and good dynamic because we haven't lost for a long time.

"Since we won the cup we haven't lost a game. So we want to continue that for as long as possible because the mentality is high."

AFCON 2017 arrives in Gabon with the country still in a state of turmoil following the re-election of Ali Bongo as president in August - a decision that prompted violence on the streets.

An economic crisis caused by the falling price of oil has led to further hardship but Kalou is hoping the appearance of the continent's finest footballers will lift the mood.

He added: "You're in a country where people are going through a difficult time.

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"We know how hard it is because in our country we can relate. Football is a game where people can enjoy. Hopefully this tournament can bring people together because people are more important than politics.

"Bringing people to the stadium and bringing people to the TV for 90 minutes will help them to forget about their struggles.

"We don't do politics so the only thing we can do is entertain so when they watch for 90 minutes they can escape the struggle."

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