It’s January, which means the bi-annual African Nations Cup has arrived. It’s a competition the club has been familiar with perhaps as far back as the arrival of Celestine Babayaro to Stamford Bridge, and recent years have seen a cluster of key players head South for the month as they take part. In the first of a number of pieces this month, we take a look at how our current quartet are getting on.

Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel are currently in Angola with their countries and have experienced a quite tumultuous opening week of the tournament. Last Friday saw the tragic death of three Togolese team staff in an attack in the Cabinda province of the country and it has impacted everyone involved, particularly three of Chelsea’s players. The Ivorian duo of Kalou and Drogba and Ghana’s Essien were all due to face Togo in Group B but with their subsequent withdrawal from competition, the task of qualifying for the Quarter Finals has been made tougher. The two teams are now part of a three-team group with Burkina Faso and Monday saw an inauspicious start for Drogba’s elephants.

Despite having by far the greater possession and racking up twenty shots to their opponents’ two, the competition favourites were held to a goalless draw by the Burkinabes. Drogba played the entire match and looked lively, having an early penalty appeal turned down before showing off his array of tricks and dangerous crosses as he spent much of the time in wide positions. It was a marked difference from his more static Chelsea role, and whilst he played well, he will be disappointed that he was unable to make an impact in front of goal. Kalou was an unused substitute and the draw makes their path through a little tougher.

Essien is yet to kick a ball in the tournament, with Ghana being due to have faced Togo up first. It afforded the Black Stars a later arrival into Angola and means that the winner of tomorrow’s clash will qualify. It’s a big game for the Ivory Coast, as a defeat means that Burkina Faso will have a great chance of advancing ahead of them, either on points or on goal difference.

It’s hardly been a great start for Mikel either. Despite taking the lead against current defending back-to-back champions Egypt, Nigeria crashed to a 3-1 defeat in Benguela and will be looking to bounce back with victory over Benin on Saturday. A defeat for the Super Eagles will eliminate them from the cup and ensure an early return to club duty for the Blues’ defensive midfielder. He had an average game against the Egyptians, passing it in midfield tidily enough but lacked any creative spark or penetration, and will be hoping to improve on his own performance too.

Check back here on CFCnet after the weekend for a recap on the second round of group fixtures, and throughout the month for as long as there’s a Chelsea interest in Angola. Don’t forget that the Official Chelsea FC Website also has an African Cup of Nations Micro-site, which keeps you abreast of everything going on in Angola for Chelsea’s African quartet. You can view it here:

African Cup of Nations 2010