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Zambia draw with Namibia to top Group B

Football
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Star-less Ivory Coast embark on new era under Ibrahim Kamara

Some of the Ivory Coast's most high-profile players have been making headlines this week, with Yaya Toure completing a return to Olympiakos and Gervinho starring for Parma as they were defeated by Juventus in Serie A.

Yet the Elephants will be without these two - and many other of their most recognisable stars - when they face Rwanda in their second Africa Cup of Nations qualifier on September 9.

The match will mark the start of Ibrahim Kamara's tenure, with the respected local coach appointed in July as a replacement for Marc Wilmots.

The Belgian's time at the helm was as brief as it was unconvincing, with the West Africans struggling with post-AFCON hangover after their miserable title defence in Gabon in early 2017 before missing out on the World Cup.

Kamara, despite his high standing within the domestic footballing scene, is a conservative choice, but he has the talent at his disposal to qualify the Ivorians for the AFCON and to enjoy a deep run in next summer's tournament in Cameroon.

However, he'll be without Gervinho, Yaya and various other big-name players for this weekend's meeting with a resurgent Rwanda side.

Wilfred Zaha, author of two goals in the Premier League so far, misses out with a groin problem, while Salomon Kalou, Wilfried Bony and Seydou Doumbia - all veterans of the 2017 success - are all absent.

Jean-Philippe Gbamin is one of the new faces introduced by Wilmots, and after being courted by Arsenal this summer, represents one of the coming faces of the African game. However, he too will sit this one out with injury.

Their absences should allow some of the squad's less heralded stars to establish themselves in a fixture that the Elephants should win.

Jean-Michael Seri, who's enjoyed a fine start to life at Fulham, and Franck Kessie have the potential to be Africa's best midfield duos, and they'll be joined in the heart of the park by, likely, Geoffrey Serey Die.

It will be interesting to see whether AS Monaco's Jean-Eudes Aholou can add to his two caps to date.

In defence, the quartet of Serge Aurier, Eric Bailly, Wilfried Kanon and Adama Traore ought to be a point of strength for the Elephants, even if the first two aren't truly convincing at Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United respectively.

Aurier's appearances for Spurs since his arrival from Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 have been mixed, with the wideman's rashness perhaps leaving the biggest impression on Tottenham fans.

Nonetheless, expect him to reassert himself as Africa's premier full-back over the coming year, and he should represent one of the Elephants' key attacking assets once again.

In attack, perhaps the side's key asset is Max-Alain Gradel.

He's often been overlooked for his contributions to the Elephants during the Golden Generation's fade out of the picture, yet the part he played during the title-winning campaign of 2015 cannot be underestimated.

In Equatorial Guinea, he made the team of the tournament, and after bouncing back from an injury-hit spell with Bournemouth, he's enjoying the form of his career with Toulouse.

With Nicolas Pepe (two goals and one assist for LOSC Lille in Ligue 1 this term) on the other flank, the Elephants boast the quality in wide areas to terrorise opposition full-backs - even without Gervinho and Zaha.

Maxwel Cornet and the uncapped Vakoun Issouf Bayo are other options for Kamara.

In attack, the absences of Doumbia, Bony and even Giovanni Sio open the door for Jonathan Kodjia to reassert himself as the Elephants' leading man.

He and Bony jostled for a starting spot at the 2017 AFCON - with both ultimately disappointing - and the powerful frontman has endured an injury-hit time ever since.

The 28-year-old went from scoring 19 goals in successive seasons with Bristol City and Aston Villa to netting just once last term after he was forced to watch most of the Villains' campaign from the sidelines.

Now back to full fitness, and with three goals in six so far this term, he's primed to make up for lost time.

Expect many of the star names to return in time for the AFCON - which could represent a magnificent swansong for Gervinho and Yaya - but in the meantime, Kamara has the raw elements to forge an exciting side as the Elephants embark on a new era.

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