MARK O'HAIRE'S (@MarkOHaire) been backing bags of 2017 African Cup of Nations winners. Next on his hit-list is Group C's encounter between Ivory Coast and DR Congo.
Ivory Coast v DR Congo | Friday 16:00 | Eurosport
Ivory Coast head coach Michel Dussuyer has called on his side to produce a performance worthy of champions as the Elephants aim to collect their first victory at the 2017 African Cup of Nations.
The holders were held to a disappointing 0-0 draw by Togo in their opener in Oyem and although Dussuyer’s side dominated possession, Ivory Coast only landed two efforts on-target – both of which came in the first-half.
The Elephants boss described their performance against Togo as “a pale copy” of their true potential but Dussuyer deserves to take his own share of the criticism having withdrawn Wilfred Zaha in the second period, arguably Ivory Coast’s liveliest attacking weapon.
Jonathan Kodjia came close to scoring but his toe-poke whilst Serge Aurier nodded wide from six yards late on. At the other end, Sylvain Gbohouo rushed out of his goal to save smartly at the feet of Mathieu Dossevi but neither Ivory Coast nor Togo found their fluency and weren’t helped by a poor playing surface.
Defences on top
The pair were both guilty of wasting set-piece opportunities but if there was one bright light for pre-tournament favourites Ivory Coast, it was the commanding centre-half performances from Wilfried Kanon and Eric Bailly. As alluded to in our outright previews, the Elephants’ strength is at the back and it showed.
I fancied Friday’s opponents DR Congo to go well at the 2017 AFCON and the Leopards lead the Group C standings thanks to their 1-0 triumph against Morocco. But the Leopards rode their luck in Oyem and were fortunate to collect maximum points.
Florent Ibenge's side, who went on strike over unpaid bonuses on Friday, almost trailed early on when Mbark Boussoufa struck the bar but Junior Kabananga eventually put DR Congo ahead and they managed to hold out despite going down to nine men for several minutes in the closing stages.
Skipper and Northampton defender Gabriel Zakuani went off injured whilst substitute Lomalisa Mutambala was booked twice in 16 minutes with the Leopards having made all of their substitutions.
Morocco's Youssef El-Arabi missed with two headed chances late on as the Congolese held on despite having 11 fewer shots than their opponents.
Expectation on Elephants to perform
Zakuani’s hoping to be fit for Friday’s encounter but DRC will need a major improvement – especially in the final third – if they’re to deny Ivory Coast the win the pre-match odds suggest is a formality.
The Elephants have been chalked up as 10/11 (William Hill) shots and having restricted Togo to one effort on-target and only four shots from inside their own penalty box, plus keeping five clean sheets in nine competitive outings since lifting the trophy two years ago, the odds appear favourable on first glance.
But this is a team that recorded a win and three qualifying draws in a group alongside Sudan and Sierra Leone. None of their performances since lifting the crown in 2015 have consistently convinced and they’ve lacked the required invention to pummel weaker opposition.
The betting angle
Despite the negativity, the Elephants are unbeaten since the start of AFCON 2015 and haven’t been beaten by African opposition since October 2014. But the fact Ivory Coast have only won two of their last 10 competitive games by more than a one-goal margin, is another reason why I just can’t foresee goals here.
DR Congo do boast a smattering of quality in offensive positions but their opening victory gives Ibenge’s men something to defend and the Leopards may opt to protect rather than initiate attacks as a consequence.
Considering all the available evidence, I’m going to split my stakes between the draw (23/10 Betway) and Ivory Coast to win by exactly one goal (12/5 Bet365) – a simple staking plan (use Oddschecker’s ditching calculator) and we’ll eke out solid profit should either selection land.