Dark-horses Burkina Faso aim to spring a surprise on African powerhouse Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast v Burkina Faso, African Cup of Nations, January 11, 2010

Ivory Coast 1/3; Draw 9/2; Burkina Faso 13/1

Tournament favourites Ivory Coast kick off their African Cup of Nations programme on Monday when they take on Burkina Faso in Group B.

The Elephants, packed with one of the best squads in the whole of Africa, should have both the physical and mental edge over Burkina Faso, particularly as they have recently completed the double over their opponents in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers.

Although Burkina Faso won four of their group matches during the qualifiers, they finished runners-up in the group to the Ivorians, who crucially won both the sides head-to-head games. That included an emphatic 5-0 win at home, as well as a narrow 3-2 victory in the reverse fixture in Burkina Faso which proved crucial in qualifying for 2010. (6/5 to be over 2.5 goals in the game.)

Boasting the likes of Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Emmanuel Eboue, Yaya Toure and Kolo Toure in the ranks, the Ivorians deserve their place at the head of all the betting markets and are certainly the team to beat. (The Ivorians are 4/7 to win both halves.) Indeed, aside from young keeper Vincent Angban, every one of the 23 member squad plies their trade in Europe, while the Elephants could also prove more tactically savvy than many of the other teams in the competition being under the watchful eye of hugely experienced Bosnian coach, Vahid Halilhodzic.

For their part, Burkina Faso will be cursing their luck in being drawn with their West African neighbours as their form suggests they are a capable side on their day. To qualify from this group they need to cause at least one upset (Ghana and Togo are also in the group) but their record in 2009 suggests they battle to keep clean sheets when facing quality opponents and in this case, they come up against the most potent strike force in the tournament. (The Ivorians are 10/11 to keep a clean sheet.)

Under the guidance of Portuguese coach Paulo Duarte, Burkina Faso can lay claim to having one of the most potent African strikers on the continent in the shape of Al Khor forward Moumouni Dagano. Twelve goals in the World Cup qualifiers made the big and burly Dagano the top marksman in Africa. And alongside Nice forward Habib Bamogo, The Stallions have an attacking duo capable of causing the Ivorians serious problems. (Burkina Faso are 11/2 to score in both halves.)

Further back, Burkina Faso also have quality in the centre of the park. 23-year-old Hamburg player  Jonathan Pitroipa offers versatility and a strong engine to get up and down the pitch, while 21-year-old Charles Kabore may not be a regular at club level with French giants Marseille, yet he is still regarded as a big talent for the future in Africa.

With eight wins and four draws in their last 12 matches, anything other than an Ivorian opening round win will be a huge shock in Angola. That said, Burkina Faso are no longer the dodgy pushovers who lost eight consecutive matches during 2007-08, with The Stallions having transformed their fortunes in the last 18 months with only three defeats in the period while recording wins against Tunisia, Guinea and Malawi.

101predicts: Ivory Coast 2 – Burkina Faso 0 (11/2)

Ivory Coast 1/3; Draw 9/2; Burkina Faso 13/1

Full match odds here.