By Anthony Marshall - Newcastle United Managing Editor
After two fruitless trips to the World Cup, Cheick Tiote believes this summer's tournament could see the Ivory Coast make a real statement of intent and establish themselves as a major force in international football…
Cheick Tiote insists Ivory Coast are not just heading to Brazil to make up the numbers this summer, and has tipped his nation to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
The Elephants have only qualified for the tournament twice previously - in 2006 and 2010 - but failed to make it past the group stage on each occasion.
However, United enforcer Tiote is hoping to make it third time lucky as they join Colombia, Greece and Japan in Group C, starting in the early hours of Sunday morning.
And the midfielder has set his sights on the lofty ambition of a final eight berth, and possibly more, as he insists African nations are improving year on year.
"This means a lot to my country," said Tiote.
"It is not the first time Ivory Coast have qualified for the World Cup but this time we are not just going there to be a part of the World Cup.
"We know we can improve on last time, we know we can show more ability and we all believe that we can have a very good tournament.
"I think we have a good team with lots of good players. We have to try and finish either first or second in the group to progress.
"After that, if we get out of the group then I think we could have a good chance of maybe reaching the quarter-final or semi-finals. You never know what could happen.
"When you look at the players we've got, we are good enough to beat some of the best teams in the world.
"The African teams are all getting stronger. It is different to before. We have learnt from mistakes we have made in the past, we are stronger and every African country has a chance of doing well this year."
As every footballer will testify, running out at the World Cup is the realisation of a childhood dream - an accomplishment that can rarely be topped.
And Tiote is no exception, revealing that with a first professional contract at Anderlecht came the vision of playing on the greatest stage of all.
"I used to watch the World Cup on television when I was growing up, but it was only when I started playing football professionally that I started to think about possibly playing in the World Cup," he explained.
"I remember watching France win the World Cup (in 1998) and I could not imagine that I would one day be playing in it.
"I did not think it would come so soon in my career but that is football."
Having made his international debut in the summer of 2009, Tiote was duly named in the Ivory Coast squad for the following year's World Cup in South Africa.
He started each of his country's games, against Portugal, Brazil and North Korea, but a four-point haul was not enough for progression on that occasion.
However, Tiote believes he became a better player for the experience and is looking forward to once again testing himself against the world's best.
"I learnt a lot from playing in the last World Cup," said the 27-year-old, who signed for Newcastle shortly after returning home from the 2010 competition.
"I became a better player because of it and in this year's tournament I think we have a chance to move forward as a team and I have a chance to improve myself again.
"I am really looking forward to it. I know about playing in a World Cup but it will be different this time because it is in a different country.
"In Brazil it will be tough because of the weather but it will be nice to play there. Brazil is one of the best footballing countries in the world and it will be my first time playing there, so I am looking forward to it and I hope I enjoy it."
This article was first produced for Newcastle United's official matchday programme against Cardiff City on Saturday, 3rd May. To purchase a copy of the World Cup special publication, click here.