Six Eric Bailly replacements for Ivory Coast at the Africa Cup of Nations

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Goal offer six potential Afcon alternatives for the Elephants following the Manchester United man’s season-ending injury

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    Who partners Kanon?

    Africa Cup of Nations dark horses the Ivory Coast suffered a massive setback this weekend with the news that centre-back Eric Bailly has damaged the ligaments in his right knee. The defender was injured in a collision with Mateo Kovacic on Sunday in Manchester United’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea.

    While he may have endued a testing time at Old Trafford, the stopper’s importance to the Elephants cannot be understated; the former Villarreal man has started six of their last eight matches, and is one of the veterans of the 2015 Afcon-winning campaign.

    While Wilfried Kanon will take one of the centre-back berths in the team, who will replace Bailly? Here are six options for coach Ibrahim Kamara:

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    Ismael Traore

    The veteran centre-back made his debut way back in 2012, but due to competition in the heart of the defence, has been limited to only a handful of appearances since.

    He appeared to be particularly out of his depth in the miserable 5-0 defeat by the Netherlands in 2017, but Kamara clearly sees something in him, and the defender played twice in March—against Rwanda and Liberia.

    Could the stars be aligning for the Angers defender at just the right time?

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    Jean-Philippe Gbamin

    Linked with a move to Arsenal earlier in the campaign, the Mainz defensive midfielder has the quality to be a key man for the Elephants this summer. He’d represent an elegant solution to Bailly’s injury absence, and considering the Ivorians’ midfield options, Kamara would be losing nothing from the heart of the park if he dropped him into the backline.

    It’s not ideal that Gbamin has been playing in midfield for his club this term, although he has played at centre-back for the West Africans before, notably in the 1-1 draw with Guinea in qualification.

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    Cheick Comara

    The Wydad Casablanca centre-back has adapted well to life in the Moroccan Botola after leaving AFAD in 2017. He represented the Moroccan giants at the 2017 Club World Cup, but international recognition has been slow in coming his way.

    Despite starring for the home-based Elephants during their run to the African Nations Championship in 2016, the unswerving defender has managed just two international appearances since.

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    Simon Deli

    Deli started the Liberia victory alongside Traore, and appears well-placed to challenge for a spot in the starting XI now that Bailly’s out. The powerful Slavia Prague man has endured something of a stop-start international career, although he did start four matches in a row in early 2017.

    His left foot makes him an asset in the backline, and he featured twice at the last Afcon.

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    Willy Boly

    The first of two uncapped players who could represent an ideal solution for the Elephants, Boly has long been tipped to represent the Ivory Coast despite making appearances for France up to U-19 level.

    He was approached by Kamara in December, although as yet, he hasn’t committed to a nationality switch.

    Arguably, considering Boly’s form with Wolverhampton Wanderers this season, he’d represent an upgrade on Bailly.

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    Joris Gnagnon

    Another former France youth international who’s been courted by the Elephants is Sevilla’s stopper Gnagnon, who’s represented Les Bleus at U-20 and U-21 level.

    He’s a cultured operator in the heart of the backline, who already has oodles of experience after two full Ligue 1 seasons with Stade Rennais.

    Marc Wilmots tried to coax him to the fold during the World Cup qualifiers, but without taking to the field, Gnagnon remains eligible for France.

    Kamara would do well to try and tempt him back to the fold.