25 January 2013

Cote d'Ivoire/Tunisia: Elephants Need to Prove Their Strength

Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix
African Footballer of the Year Yaya Toure scoring one of Cote d'Ivoire's goals against Tunisia. He was central to most of the Ivorians' attacking moves in the match.

Cote d'Ivoire hit out at critics of their slender opening round victory over Togo, saying they will improve the longer the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations goes on. Now the Elephants have the chance to prove that theory when they take on Tunisia in their second Group D match in Rustenburg on Saturday evening.

The side, and in particular star striker Didier Drogba, battled to find rhythm in their 2-1 success over the Togolese, admitting they were fortunate to come away with the victory after a late goal from Gervinho sealed the points.

"The objective is to grow in strength," says midfielder Yaya Toure. "We were lucky towards the end [against Togo]. We have players who are capable of making the difference at any moment and that is what's most important.

"Everyone can appreciate the quality of the game in his own way. The most important thing is the three points. We came to win six matches. We can say that the first step has been taken successfully. We have five matches remaining that we have to concentrate on."

Coach Sabri Lamouchi was more direct with his views, unable to hide his irritation with the way his team laboured to their opening win.

"I think people will see a more improved side in the second game against Tunisia... We have made it clear we are here to win the tournament," he said, as much to his own players as to the assembled press.

Tunisia upset north African rivals Algeria with a late 1-0 win in their first encounter, having put up stubborn resistance in a game that never lived up to any great heights.

They will bank again on that ability to frustrate and hope then to catch the Ivorians on the break, knowing that they are out-skilled, and most probably out-muscled, by Africa's leading side.

They were dealt a blow with the news that leading forward Issam Jemaa will miss the remainder of the tournament through injury. Coach Sami Trabelsi has lamented the loss, saying Jemaa's experience will be missed by the group, but he feels he has depth to cover.

The head-to-head between these two sides is tight, with Tunisia managing six wins to Cote d'Ivoire's five, and another six games drawn.

They also met at the last Nations Cup hosted by South Africa in 1996, with Tunisia winning 3-1 and going on to finish runners-up that year.

Unusually, they also met in a warm-up match for this tournament just 13 days before this fixture, with the Ivorians running out 2-0 winners in Abu Dhabi. Salomon Kalou and Didier Drogba, from the penalty spot, scored the goals.

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