If there was a ‘perfect’ time to live up to their billing as pre-tournament favourites, it is now. After years of African Nations pain, the ‘Elephants’ – and their golden generation – are looking to win their first major trophy since 1992, starting with a win against Algeria to propel themselves into a semi-final slot.
After an unconvincing draw with minnows Burkina Faso, Vahid Halilhodži?’s side defeated a depleted Ghanaian squad to top Group B, as well as ensuring that they stayed at their Cabinda training base. However, despite possessing some of Africa’s best footballers, the Ivoirians’ ability to play as an effective team has been somewhat suspect, with the occasional lapse in concentration. But, after their domination of Ghana, their confidence is sure to have been restored.
- Vahid Halilhodzic is expecting an Ivoirian victory
In contrast, ‘Les Fennecs’ are undoubtedly the most unpredictable side still standing in this years’ African Nations. Algeria opened up their campaign in a shocking fashion, being crushed 3-0 by the lesser know Malawi, blaming their inability to adapt to Angolas’ harsh climate for the defeat. After scraping past Mali 1-0, ‘Les Fennecs’ played out a 0-0 draw with the hosts to qualify in second place. Similarly to the ‘Elephants’, Algeria haven’t fulfilled their high expectations since that crucial play-off victory over Egypt.
However, anyone expecting Rabah Saadane’s side to simply roll over can think again. Renowned for their pace, ‘Les Fennecs’ are an extremely robust and efficient side who are tough to break down. Although not quite as star-studded as their opponents, the North Africans’ comprise of a spirited aura that was evident as they showed ‘bouncebackability’ to qualify despite their poor opening result.
- Emmanuel Eboue will miss the match through suspension
If the Algerians’ are going to make the semi-final stages, a lot of their hopes will rest on the shoulders of playmaker Karim Ziani. The Wolfsburg dynamo has skill in abundance, and will be itching to score his first goal in the competition after three disappointing performances thus far. Should Saadane place him on the left side of midfield, the Ivoirians’ already shaky defence could come unstuck without the exploits of Eboue to call on.
Halilhodži? is expected to stick with the formation that saw off Ghana, although he will have to make do without Arsenal defender Emmanuel Eboue, who was sent off for a cynical lunge in their final group game, with Sol Bamba likely to replace him. ‘Les Fennecs’ also have injury worries, with Mourad Meghni, Rafiki Saiki, and Yassine Bezzazz all doubts because of niggles picked up during their draw with Angola.
- Karim Ziani could be a huge threat to the Ivoirian defence
Before the encounter, Halilhodži? told goal.com, ‘I expect us to move forwards into the next stage. Anything less would be disappointing.’
All in all, the Ivory Coast are clear favourites to move into the semi-finals. Having played fewer games, as well as their ability to adapt to the strenuous conditions can only be beneficial to the ‘Elephants’, whilst they also have the stronger side on paper. I fully expect Halilhodzic to guide the favourites through, barring any Algerian surprises…
Prediction: Ivory Coast 2-0 Algeria
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