CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) Ivory Coast begins the defense of its African title this weekend without Yaya Toure after the team captain asked not to be selected while he considers his international future.
So, Sunday’s 2017 African Cup of Nations qualifier against Sierra Leone in neutral Nigeria is the start of new coach Michel Dussuyer’s reign, and possibly the start of life for the Ivorians without Toure.
Nigeria also has a new coach as former player Sunday Oliseh takes charge against Tanzania.
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Ghana, after a 7-1 win over Mauritius in the first round, travels to Rwanda. Unimpressive in a scrambling 1-0 victory over Mauritania in its first group qualifier, Cameroon is away at Gambia.
Ivory Coast is starting its campaign late after playing its first game against 2017 tournament host Gabon, which has been included in the qualifying competition but whose games don’t count toward the group standings.
Dussuyer took over from the 2015 African Cup-winning coach Herve Renard and spent his first few months in the job gauging whether the 32-year-old Toure will continue. Dussuyer recently flew to London for talks with the Manchester City midfielder, who is still to decide if he wants to keep playing for his country.
The French coach also has problems with other stars. Striker Wilfried Bony is injured, while Newcastle midfielder Cheick Tiote is not part of this squad after team management couldn’t contact him.
The game was moved to Port Harcourt in southern Nigeria because of the lingering effect of the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone. It was initially scheduled for Lagos, but Sierra Leone made a late change, forcing the Ivorians to alter their plans and take a chartered plane down to the Niger Delta.
Ex-midfielder Oliseh has the task of developing some consistency from Nigeria, which won the 2013 African Cup and then failed to qualify for this year’s tournament. There is no place for Chelsea’s John Obi Mikel in Oliseh’s first squad.
Nigeria sits second to Egypt in Group G ahead of its trip to Tanzania. Egypt is away at Chad.
Four days before its qualifier in Rwanda, Ghana played a game against Republic of Congo in Brazzaville to open the new stadium that will be used for the All Africa Games starting this week.
Jordan Ayew scored late in Ghana’s 3-2 win on Tuesday. But there may be some tired players when Avram Grant’s team, which lost the 2015 African Cup final to Ivory Coast, gets to Kigali.
Cameroon leads Group M ahead of South Africa, but only after Vincent Aboubakar rescued it with an 89th-minute winner at home to minnow Mauritania back in June. Cameroon has what should be another easy game against Gambia, while the South Africans must make the long trip to Mauritania.
The 13 group winners and two best second-placed teams will qualify for the 2017 Cup of Nations to join host Gabon.
In other games this round, Tunisia travels to Liberia, which can host soccer again after the deadly Ebola virus outbreak, and Mali plays Benin. Also, Morocco is away to Sao Tome and Principe, Algeria is in Lesotho and Senegal is in Namibia.
Uganda’s match against the Indian Ocean island nation of Comoros will go ahead after the cash-strapped Ugandan Football Association was bailed out by the country’s president. Uganda was considering withdrawing from the tie, the federation head said, before Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni provided $210,000 to cover the team’s travel costs.
Emmanuel Adebayor’s love-hate relationship with Togo’s national team continues. The striker didn’t respond to a call-up from his country for Friday’s game in Djibouti after a row following the last qualifier when he was overlooked for the captaincy.
Associated Press writers Andrew Oryada and Blame Ekoue contributed to this report.