Yaya Toure gives Elephants firepower
Yaya Toure has added a new weapon to his armoury and that spells danger for World Cup rivals of Ivory Coast.
Once an occasional scorer, the African Footballer of the Year has become a hotshot in Manchester City's Premier League winning team.
Toure scored a career-best 20 goals in the title race just decided -- many from free kicks with others created from surges through midfield.
He was given a standing ovation when substituted just before the end of Manchester's 2-0 win over West Ham United on Sunday that sealed the title.
An English Premier League hat-trick against Fulham in March was the first of a career that has taken Toure from Abidjan to north-west England via Belgium, Ukraine, Greece, France and Spain.
He hit two powerfully struck penalties and a superb, medium-range curled shot to reach 20.
"Not every midfielder scores 20 goals in a season and Yaya achieved that feat before the end of March," boasted City manager Manuel Pellegrini.
"Yaya Toure is a very important player," he said of the 31-year-old box-to-box star.
Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi would endorse that view with Toure assuming an increasingly important role for a national team popularly known as the 'Elephants'.
Father time is fast catching up on the likes of Kolo Toure, an elder brother of Yaya, Didier Zokora and iconic striker Didier Drogba, meaning added responsibility for the City vice-captain.
Unlucky 2006 and 2010 World Cup draws pitted the West Africans against giants like Argentina, the Netherlands, Brazil and Portugal, and led to first-round exits.
But the 2014 draw proved kinder with Ivory Coast in Group C beside Colombia, Japan and Greece.
Reaching the World Cup knockout stage would be especially joyful for Ivorian supporters who have suffered continuous disappointment in the seemingly less demanding Africa Cup of Nations.
Title favourites ahead of five consecutive African tournaments from 2006, the best the 'Elephants' managed was two sets of runners-up medals.
The Nations Cup also offered some sobering lessons for Toure, who could again be voted African footballer of the year for 2014.
Toure has been voted fotballer of the year three consecutive times by national coaches based on the continent.
But his 2013 success annoyed many Nigerian football fans, who believed runner-up John Obi Mikel, who rarely starts for his club Chelsea, should have topped the poll.
Toure began his career at famous Abidjan 'nursery' ASEC Mimosas and played for Beveren, Metalurh Donetsk, Olympiakos and Monaco before joining Barcelona.
The 1.91-metre giant never commanded a regular place, though, and with coach Pep Guardiola preferring Sergio Busquets as a midfield enforcer, Toure moved in 2010 to City.
At first it was the powerful runs and precision passing that drew praise, and now the goal trickle has turned into a steady flow.
Combined with the fancy footwork of Gervinho and the predatory instincts of Drogba and Wilfried Bony, it offers Ivory Coast hope of a last-16 place in Brazil.
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