GROUP D takes centre stage in the African Cup of Nations on Saturday. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) eyes up the best bets.
Ivory Coast v Mali | Saturday 16.00 | Eurosport
Group D couldn’t be tighter after the first round of fixtures. All four sides are locked level having played out the opening two games with 1-1 draws. Saturday’s action from Malabo could prove decisive in the race to reach the quarter-finals.
I’ve been fairly firm from the outset that I just can’t be with or near Ivory Coast in almost all markets – outright, to win the group or even to see off Guinea in their first outing. The Elephants were dismal in that clash, far worse than I ever imagined, and it’s hard to see them performing quite so bad again.
Coach Herve Renard led Zambia to Nations Cup glory in 2012 and will have been working overtime to right those wrongs from Tuesday. But Ivory Coast will now be without Gervinho following his red card and will need a big improvement from skipper Yaya Toure. The Manchester City man was an injury doubt before the Guinea game and looked well off the pace, uninterested and devoid of quality.
Wven if the Elephants can raise their game, which we should expect them to, they remain a rabble at the back. Renard’s charges qualified with the most porous backline of all the qualified sides and may struggle against the pace and power of a Mali side that looked lively and threatening against Cameroon.
The Eagles flouted their reputation for anti-football with an all-action display. Wolves wideman Bakary Sako was outstanding down the left and whilst coach Henryuk Kasperczak claims his side are going through a transitional phase, the team showed enough quality to warrant maximum respect ahead of Saturday’s showdown.
As well as down the wings, Mali will be imposing, physical and a danger in the air. It’s hard not to see them netting; they’ve scored in 14 of their last 16 matches and that’s led to Both Teams Scoring in 11 of those previous 16 outings.
For all their defensive deficiencies, Ivory Coast continue to boast a frighteningly good scoring record, not failing to get on the scoresheet in a competitive game since the 2012 Nations Cup final. With 21 of their past 26 outings seeing Both Teams To Score banking, it’s hard not to resist a plunge on Betfair’s odds-against offering at 23/20.
Ivory Coast v Mali – Both Teams To Score (23/20 Betfair)