MARK O'HAIRE'S (@MarkOHaire) been bagging sacks of winners at the 2017 African Cup of Nations. Next on his hit-list is Group C's concluder between Morocco and Ivory Coast.
Morocco v Ivory Coast | Tuesday 19:00 | Eurosport
Herve Renard, the man who guided Ivory Coast to African Cup of Nations glory two years ago, could mastermind his former’s team downfall in Oyem on Tuesday night.
Renard’s Morocco only require a point from their final group-game, whilst the Elephants know only a victory will do to keep their pursuit of back-to-back AFCON titles alive.
Ivory Coast were in this very same position in 2015 – having started their campaign with successive draws, the Elephants bagged maximum points in their pool concluder before going the distance. But are they good enough to repeat the feat here?
Arriving in Gabon, the Elephants’ were supposedly built from the back with a defence and structure lauded by their continental rivals. But poor backline performances have left Michel Dussuyer’s men teetering on the brink of early elimination for the first time since 2002.
Ivory Coast twice fell behind before pegging back DR Congo in their last outing. The champions failed to pick up the runs of Neeskens Kebano and Junior Kabananga for the DR Congo pair's goals and were also fortunate when Firmin Ndombe Mubele's shot clipped the post after he’d easily held off two defenders.
At the other end, Wilfried Bony was brought into the attack and his aerial threat caused the Congolese numerous problems, as well as grabbing the Elephants’ first equaliser. But it has to be said; the Ivorian's second leveller had an element of good fortune as Serey Die's drive was diverted in off a defender.
Fate in their hands
Meanwhile, Morocco fought from a goal down to beat Togo and ensure they have control of their fate going into this game. St Pauli forward Aziz Bouhaddouz and Wolves’ Romain Saiss scored with headers to turn the match on its head before the Atlas Lions grabbed their third when Youssef En-Nesyri fired home.
It was a vital victory for the north African outfit having suffered a sloppy opening defeat to DR Congo. And the result also extends Renard’s remarkable return in AFCON matches, spanning five finals campaigns with the dapper Frenchman losing just twice in 21 fixtures (W9-D10-L2).
Morocco have only managed to progress past the group-stage once in their last seven AFCON appearances so to oust an ivory Coast team that’s qualified for the last-eight in each of the last six editions would send shockwaves around the continent. But in Renard, the Atlas Lions boast a boss capable of plotting such a scenario.
However, I’m never to keen in throwing my cash behind a side that’s in a situation where a point is enough to progress. It’s a fairly treacherous position to be in and I wouldn’t expect Renard to send his Moroccans out in search of a victory – it’s just not his style.
The Atlas Lions have been operating in a 5-4-1 formation – an approach not too dissimilar to the one that proved to be useful when Renard steered Ivory Coast to victory in 2015.
Medhi Benatia, Manuel Da Costa and Saiss are the three men at the back and with Mbark Boussoufa and Karim El Ahmadi operating just in front of the defence, plus young Hamza Mendyl marauding down the left. They’re not an easy team to penetrate.
A thrilling conclusion
Saying that, a goal in this game will change the complexion of Group C dramatically and we should try and use that to our advantage. Ivory Coast will need to unleash their attacking weapons here and you’d anticipate the pre-tournament favourites camping themselves in Morocco’s half for the majority of the match.
Dussuyer’s troops have fired blanks in three of their past 10 competitive clashes since lifting the 2015 title but I’d expect them to at least grab a goal in Oyem and that should push us towards a thrilling conclusion.
From the evidence on offer in this tournament, I can’t trust the Ivorian's at the back and Morocco have shown they’ve the quality going forward on the counter to hurt teams despite missing three key attacking components at AFCON 2017. Therefore, the 11/10 (William Hill) on Both Teams To Score seems very fair.
Morocco v Ivory Coast – Both Teams To Score (11/10 William Hill)