Ivorians look to overcome Mali

2015-01-23 14:51
Gervinho (AFP)

Malabo, Equatorial Guinea - The Ivory Coast must overcome the absence of the suspended Gervinho as they look to kickstart their Africa Cup of Nations campaign with a win against Mali in Malabo on Saturday.

The Elephants face their west African neighbours before Cameroon take on Guinea in a double header of games in Equatorial Guinea's capital in a group that is perfectly poised after both opening matches ended 1-1.

Herve Renard's Ivory Coast side failed to really impress in their first match against Guinea, although they did come from behind to earn a draw after Gervinho's red card, with substitute Seydou Doumbia their saviour.

Against Mali, Gervinho begins a two-match suspension handed down following his clash with Guinea's Naby Keita, and so it is without the Roma forward that the Elephants must try to forge a path through to the last eight.

However, Doumbia, after his starring role as a substitute, is set to win a place in the starting line-up as Renard looks for his side to improve on what he described as an "average" performance against Guinea.

"Seydou we know is someone who, when he finds himself in the opposition box, is unstoppable, so it's highly likely that he will be associated with Wilfried Bony at the start of the match," said Renard.

The Ivory Coast have a perfect Cup of Nations record against Mali, winning all three previous confrontations, including in the semi-finals in 2012.

On that occasion, it was Gervinho who scored in a 1-0 victory in Libreville, and Renard knows his importance to the team.

"There is only one Gervinho, in the Ivory Coast and maybe in the competition, but I am sure the ones who will play to replace Gervinho will do well," he added.

But Henryk Kasperczak's Mali put up a good showing in drawing 1-1 against Cameroon in their opening game, showing enough to indicate that they can trouble a supposedly superior Ivorian side.

After that game, former Polish international Kasperczak was eager to play up his side's chances, saying: "Before the tournament I said it was a very well balanced group, with no favourites, even if most people thought Cameroon and the Ivory Coast were the favourites.

"But Mali are also a very good side in Africa just now. At the last Cup of Nations we were third and we are here to confirm that good performance."

Win or lose on Saturday, nothing will be decided for any of the sides in the group, with Cameroon and Guinea preparing to meet in the second game of the day.

Read more on:    ivory coast  |  afcon 2015  |  gervinho  |  soccer

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