Mother Of All Battles

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The teams in Group ‘D’ go into their final round of fixtures today with nothing but alphabetical order separating them, as John Vianney Nsimbe reports.

Herve Renard, the Ivory Coast tactician has been an animated man in this year’s Africa Cup of Nations so far. Pacing around his dug-out in his ‘lucky’ white shirt that he wore back in 2012 when he guided Zambia to the Afcon title, hasn’t been able to do the magic for Ivory Coast though.

Instead, he has had to live through the anguish of seeing his team fight from behind to secure points against Guinea and Mali in his previous two games. Today, he leads his charges against Cameroon, well aware that it is make-or-break for a golden generation that is now led by the Man-City star midfielder, Yaya Toure.

In fact, Yaya has still failed to live up to his Man-City billing. At 31, Yaya and his elder brother Kolo Toure, 33, don’t have time to get the monkey off their backs. In 2006, they lost the Afcon final to Egypt and when they returned in 2008, they were bundled out at the semi-finals.

However, in 2010, Algeria beat them 3-2 at the quarter-finals and in 2012 they lost the final to Zambia on penalties. In 2013, Nigeria beat then in the quarters. This has brought into question the fortitude of other players like Salomon Kalou, Gervinho and Wilfred Bony.

The aforementioned are attackers, who have largely fired blanks at this Afcon, forcing Renard to chip and change his team more often than he probably would have wanted. But it has to be mentioned too that Ivory Coast’s defending has been suspect like was seen in the games against Guinea and Mali.

And their opponents today will be encouraged by that. During the qualifiers, Cameroon beat Ivory Coast 4-1 in Yaounde. In Abidjan, it ended 0-0. So, Ivory Coast has it all to do to end that bad run and the possibility of making the quarters at the throw of the dice.

However, the drawing of lots wouldn’t be unprecedented. It happened at the 1988 Cup of Nations to send Algeria through to the knockout stage at the expense of the Ivory Coast who had drawn all three of their matches.

Yet, without Gervinho, who completes a two-match suspension, and Cheick Tiote serving a one-game ban too, Ivory Coast has its work cut out. In fact Kalou, who hopes to return to the first team, called it “the final before the real final”. Meanwhile, Cameroon are set to once again be without midfielder Eyong Enoh, who injured his left thigh in the opening match against Mali.

Mali v Guinea
At the same time, West African neighbours Mali and Guinea, clash in Mongomo after both impressing. Ibrahima Traore, scorer of Guinea’s goal against Cameroon at the weekend and one of the tournament’s best players so far said: “We are progressing.”

However, Guinea coach Michel Dussuyer has defensive problems. With his Captain Kamil Zayatte kept out due to a calf injury, Florentin Pogba came off against Cameroon with a groin injury and is a major doubt.

Germain Berthe is set to start in goal for Mali after Soumaila Diakite was ruled out for the rest of the competition with the groin injury that forced him off against the Ivorians.

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•Sport writer/blogger • Media strategist •Good citizen of Nigeria and Social Media Evangelist and a core die hard Real Madrid fan.

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