Saturday Oct 08, 2016. 09:00
Ivory Coast and Mali will have a West African derby when they meet in their opening Group C 2018 World Cup qualifier in Bouake on Saturday night, kick-off at 20h00.
Reigning Africa Cup of Nations champions Ivory Coast eased to a 4-0 aggregate win over Liberia in the previous round, while the Eagles of Mali overcame Botswana 3-2 on aggregate to advance to the group stage.
Both teams enjoyed successful 2017 AFCON qualification campaigns and will be looking to bring that form into the preliminaries for Russia 2018.
While the Elephants have appeared in the last three World Cups in succession, Mali have never qualified for the global tournament finals – something they will be looking to rectify in this campaign.
Coach Alain Giresse says he has been studying the Ivorians very closely and believes his side is good enough to challenge the AFCON champs in their own back yard.
“We have studied the Ivorian team to achieve a good result. We must be ready to address the meeting. There will be games that will distribute the points and a single point is important,” Giresse told news.abamako.com.
“The competition will be very tight. The decision may even play on goal difference. I think the Elephants are deprived of many experienced players who have decided to end their international career [such as Yaya Toure]. Do not think Ivory Coast will win everything.”
Giresse’s counterpart, Michel Dussuyer, has selected a powerful squad for the match, including burgeoning stars like Manchester United defender Eric Bailly and Atalanta midfielder Franck Kessie, but they look short of firepower up front.
Wilfried Bony is desperately out of form, Gervinho now plays his club football in the less competitive environment of China and the experienced Salomon Kalou has been excluded entirely, based on a lack of playing time for Hertha Berlin.
The other Group C match this weekend sees Gabon host Morocco in Franceville on Saturday, October 8.