Ivory Coast’s defence of the African Cup of Nations didn’t get off to the best of starts on Monday as they played out a dour goalless draw with Togo. This did extend their unbeaten streak to 13 matches across all competitions, but the fact they have drawn seven of those will be a real worry.
They did look promising in their warm up friendlies for the competition though as they beat Sweden and Uganda, but they just couldn’t transfer that form over into competitive football on Monday and looked completely devoid of ideas going forward.
Congo DR weren’t exactly scintillating on Monday either, but they did manage a fairly unexpected 1-0 victory over Morocco to leave them at the top of their African Cup of Nations group with two games left to play. If they manage to win against Ivory Coast they would clinch a spot in the knockout stages.
They even managed to hold off Morocco when they were down to ten men with nine minutes to go, as defender Jose Mutambala came off the bench and received two yellow cards in 15 minutes to earn himself an early bath.
This was a welcome reply after they lost their final warm up friendly 2-0 to Cameroon, and they will now be feeling fairly confident about their chances of making it out of the groups this year. They have now won four, drawn one, and lost three of their last eight games.
There’s no doubt about it that Ivory Coast have the quality advantage here, but they did against Togo and failed to make it pay. The likes of Serge Aurier, Eric Bailly, Franck Kessie, Wilfried Zaha, Wilfried Bony, and Salomon Kalou should be able to beat Congo DR, but the underdogs arguable possess more quality than Togo do.
PREDICTION: 1-0 TO IVORY COAST
Morocco’s African Cup of Nations campaign got off to a bad start before a ball had even been kicked as one of their star players, Sofiane Boufal, was sent home from the competition with a knee injury. Things didn’t get any better in their first group game either as Congo DR stifled them and nicked a 1-0 win despite being reduced to ten men in the closing stages.
This followed on from their defeat to Finland in their final warm up friendly, and it’s the first time they have suffered back to back defeats since 2014. They are now bottom of the group with two games left to play, and one of those is against current holders Ivory Coast.
Togo, despite being almost completely devoid of star quality, did manage to hold a lacklustre Ivory Coast at bay for the entire 90 minutes though as they secured a surprising goalless draw to pick up their first point of the campaign. This leaves them joint second in the group, so a win here would see them rise clear of either Ivory Coast or Congo DR.
The signs aren’t particularly good for Togo though. Their final match before the tournament started was a friendly in November, with them losing 2-1 to none other than Morocco. This ended their seven match unbeaten streak in all competitions.
That was back when Morocco looked in good shape though. They were unbeaten in ten matches going into that game, but now they have lost back to back games and failed to score in either of them they will be a bit down in the dumps.
It was also a friendly, but now Togo are in with an actual shot of making it through the African Cup of Nations group stages they’ll be a lot more focused at the back, just as they were against Ivory Coast. They have only lost one of their last nine matches as well, whilst Morocco have only won four of their last ten in all competitions.
PREDICTION: TOGO 1-0 Win
Match-day one in this group produced just 1 goal and it was scored from the penalty spot by Ghana’s Andre Ayew against Uganda. It puts the Black Stars in pole position in this group but with a tough final group game to come against Egypt, they’ll be targeting a win here, which would book their place in the last eight. It does though again promise to be another tight affair.
Mali proved their defensive capabilities by securing a 0-0 draw against Egypt in their first group game. Their previous competitive game also ended scoreless when they drew with Gabon in a World Cup qualifier in November, so there is no reason why they won’t give Ghana a real test. Mali have a good record in the African Cup of Nations, reaching the Semi-Finals in 6 of their 9 appearances in the competition. With a final group game against Uganda, they’d have a real chance of progression if they can avoid defeat here.
That will certainly be their primary objective and as a result we are likely to see a similar game-plan from them to the one that successfully thwarted Egypt earlier in the week. This isn’t viewed as a great Ghana side, certainly in comparison to the teams that have progressed to World Cups over the past decade or so but they do still have a bit of extra quality when compared to their opponents, so if anyone is likely to break the deadlock it is likely to be them.
They are quite reliant on West Ham’s Andre Ayew in terms of creativity and goal threat, while brother Jordan is also capable of pulling something out of the bag to settle a tight game like this almost certainly will be. This does feel like it is going to be a very tight group with few goals in it throughout so backing Ghana’s talisman and perhaps significantly penalty taker Andre Ayew to score first at 13/2 could be a decent punt again.
PREDICTION: GHANA 2-0 Win
Uganda came into this tournament as the rank outsiders in this group having not qualified for the African Cup of Nations since 1978, when they reached the final. They gave a pretty good account of themselves in their opening game, only losing 1-0 to Ghana but they are now in a position where they must get a result here to stay in the competition.
That won’t be easy against an Egyptian side that are one of the undisputed powerhouses of African football. Hector Cuper’s side reached Gabon by finishing 5 points clear of Nigeria in their Qualifying Group and they’ve also made a really good start to World Cup qualifying with 2 wins from 2 so far to put them on course for Russia.
Confidence, therefore, should be pretty high in the Pharaohs camp and they should find this Uganda side a touch easier to break down than Mali, who held them to a 0-0 draw on match-day one. Egypt are still a bit short on cutting edge which could be a problem later in the tournament but defensively you’d back them to keep Uganda quiet.
They may have to again call upon 44 year old goalkeeper Essam El Hadary, who became the oldest player in the tournament’s history last time out when he came off the bench to replace the injured Ahmed El Shenawy. However, the veteran should have precious little to do behind an Egypt defence that has kept a clean sheet in 10 of their last 16 internationals.
PREDICTION: Egypt win