EXCLUSIVE: African Cup Of Nations Is Preparation For Ivory Coast For The World Cup - Yaya Toure

As concern is expressed worldwide over events in the last twenty four hours in Angola following the attack on the Togo team bus, the African Cup of Nations will go ahead...

The shock attack on the Togolese team bus on Friday has put a different spin on the build up to the African Cup of Nations. The gun attack which resulted in three people losing their lives, including the team bus driver and two members of the non-playing staff - an assistant coach and a media officer - has left everyone in a state of disbelief.

Sepp Blatter, the head of football's world governing body FIFA, expressed his concern by stating that he was "deeply moved" by the events. The Angolan Prime Minister Paulo Kassoma and the president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Issa Hayatou, are now set to meet to discuss measures aimed at guaranteeing the smooth running of the tournament. Unsurprisingly, Togo has withdrawn, and the squad are now heading back home. But the tournament will go ahead and the opening match between the hosts, Angola and Mali is scheduled to kick off on Sunday in Luanda.

Its not the ideal background to be discussing the importance and the significance of the African Cup of Nations, when lives have been lost. Before joining up with the Ivorian team and prior to the attacks on the Togolese team bus, Yaya Toure spoke to Goal.com about his team competing at AFCON.

The Ivorians are one of the strong favourites but they are also directly affected by Togo's withdrawal as the two countries were paired in the same group alongside Burkina Faso and another team tipped to do well, Ghana.

For Yaya Toure, one of the highlights has gone. The Barcelona midfielder stated that one of the games he was looking forward to was the clash against Togo because as he put it, it was a chance to test himself against the brilliance of Emmanuel Adebayor. Yet while the loss of Togo under such frightening and ultimately sad circumstances leaves a shadow hanging over Angola's first ever Cup of Nations, the football on show is exceptional. And for Toure the competition offers his nation a chance to win the title for the first time since 1992.

"I really think this Cup of Nations is a real chance for my country to win this competition in Angola. But of course at the same time we know very well that to do this won't be easy at all," he said. 

With the withdrawal of the Togolese, who were due to be Ivory Coast's last opponents in Group B in Cabinda, the system for qualification from the group will need to be confirmed by CAF. For Toure, the teams that can win the competition are numerous and this in its own way highlights the strength of African football at international level.

"For me there are so many beautiful teams to watch who are taking part. I mean just in our group we have Ghana."

While Yaya feels that the Ivorians can win the competition he is clear on which sides he thinks will pose the greatest threat.

"I suppose you just have to look at Cameroon and the players they have and then Egypt. They have won this tournament two times consecutively now and they really are a very difficult team to win against."

The Egyptians do have an inspiring record in the tournament. They have won three out of the last six editions, including beating Cameroon in the final in 2008, and then Ivory Coast in a penalty shoot out in 2006, when the Egyptians were the hosts. But despite their threat Yaya believes in his own squad.

"I have confidence in my team. I think if we can keep our concentration at the highest level then I know we can win this cup. You just have to look at the players we have. We have Didier Drogba, then there is my brother Kolo (Toure) there is me and then Eboue and I feel that we are the players who can make the difference. But we have to keep the level very high in order to win, but we can do it."

Now with the absence of Togo, many will look at Ghana and the Ivoarians from Group B. But Toure feels that little known Burkina Faso can't be underestimated.

"I have seen Burkina play because in the qualifications we played against them. The thing with Burkina is that they may not have any star names but they are a strong team. Physically they are very big and they fight really hard together and that makes them a very difficult team to play against."

One of the reasons why success for Ivory Coast in the African Cup of Nations is so important is because of the forthcoming World Cup. Toure believes victory in Angola will inspire the Ivorians and give them added momentum.

"Its about confidence. If we can win in Angola then we have the confidence for South Africa. In truth the World Cup is probably two or three times the level of the African Cup. The teams are much stronger, the tactical game is very different and I feel that Ivory Coast needs to have confidence going into the World Cup."

Its an understandable comment when you look at the teams that the West African nation are up against in South Africa. In what has been described as the hardest group of all, Ivory Coast will have Brazil, Portugal and North Korea for company. 

"For sure we are really in a difficult group. But you know for us this is also great. We are playing the really big teams like Brazil and Portugal. We want to prove ourselves and show ourselves to be a great team as well, so it's good. And if we lose and we go then okay, I mean just look at who we are playing!"

It makes sense, it nearly always does when Yaya is talking football. But before thinking that far ahead, the Ivorians will be preparing for Burkina Faso. They are due to open their African Cup of Nations campaign on Monday, January 11th in Cabinda.

Ashish Sharma, Goal.com