Ivory Coast on Tuesday begin their Africa Cup of Nations campaign when they take on Togo in South Africa.
As always, the Elephants are among the favourites to win the competition but, having lost 2012's final in a shock penalty shoot-out defeat by Zambia, they also have a reputation as perennial under-achievers.
Star midfielder Yaya Toure and his squad-mates will be determined to shed that tag when they get their campaign under way and, here, the Manchester City hero discusses the tournament and assesses Ivory Coast's chances.
African football is improving. It is not only a few countries anymore that play on a good level. The gaps between the African countries have become smaller and smallerYaya Toure
What are your expectations for the Africa Cup of Nations? Ivory Coast are one of the favourites but which other teams do you expect to do well in the tournament?
I think the past tournaments have shown that in the Africa Cup of Nations anything is possible. There were many surprises already in the qualification stage of the tournament and I think what we have learned in the past is that you have to take every opponent seriously and go through the tournament step-by-step. I think that the team who fights the hardest and wants it the most will have good chances to win the tournament. And we are more than motivated to make this victory finally happen.
Ivory Coast are one of the best African national teams but they have only once won the Africa Cup of Nations. This year, you come with full strength for the tournament. Do you think that the team are the favourites to win?
Of course we are one of the teams that are always in the talks for winning the title. I guess it is because we have many players that play in the strong European leagues. But in this tournament I think it also counts how much you work together as a team. We do not have as much time for preparation as some other teams with players that are based in Africa. We only come together two weeks ahead of the tournament which makes it harder to work together smoothly. But we do have great talents in the team and I think it is about time to win the trophy again.
Many of the rivals of Ivory Coast were undermined by relationship problems and poor organisation. Did you experience these things in the previous tournaments? How is the relationship between the players now?
The relationship within the Ivory Coast team is amazing. It feels like a unity and we support each other where we can. I can only make a comment on my own team but with us there are not any issues in regards to the organisation of the team.
Many of the players in the Ivory Coast national team were brought together in Jean-Marc Guillou's Academy. Is the fact that you know each other very well something that strengthens the team? How important were Guillou's methods to your formation as a player?
Yes, absolutely. The fact that we know each other for many years really supports the chemistry within the team. It is always fun to come back together and perform as one squad. The atmosphere simply seems right. Guillou's methods definitely helped to build this.
For many years, Ivory Coast had to deal with a Civil War in the country, and the national team played an important role in the peace process. Can you tell us more about those days? How did the players decide to get involved in it? How was that experience for you? How did it help to strengthen the team?
It was a very emotional time back then, it felt really tense. The country's Civil War had been raging for five years when we qualified for the World Cup in Germany in 2006. It was just a wave of positive emotions that helped us players and the country to look forward to the future. We hated what was going on in our country but it was not really planned to get involved in it as a team. It was more of an emotional decision that was born through the moment of our success. Before we were aware of it, our role had already evolved. When we travelled to Germany it really made us stronger, it gave us some sort of family feeling and the support from our country was intense.
Up for the cup
To read a full match preview of Ivory Coast's meeting with Togo, click here
Recently, African football has been experiencing a change in the hierarchy, with teams like Zambia, Mali and Cabo Verde impressing, while Cameroon and Egypt failed to qualify. In your opinion, what are the reasons behind this change?
I think this change simply shows that African football is improving. It is not only a few countries anymore that play on a good level. The gaps between the African countries became smaller and smaller. One reason might be that more and more European coaches start to work with the national teams. The necessary know-how is available in most of the countries by now and the impact of football as a sport grows continuously. I do not think Egypt or Cameroon got worse. I would rather say the 'smaller' football nations improved.
What did it mean to you to be awarded the 2012 African Player of the Year? Do you think that it adds an extra pressure for you to play well?
To receive this award twice in a row is a huge honour for me and I am really proud of it. It has been my dream since I was a child and it feels great to get awarded for something you worked really hard for. I do not feel like there is extra pressure for me now. It gives me power and motivates me to show what I am capable of. With that in mind, I feel very honoured by everyone who voted for me. Thank you one more time.
To hear more from Yaya Toure, Ivory Coast and other players and teams who will feature in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations go to www.puma.com/africanfootball