Ivorians out to kickstart campaign without Gervinho
23 January 2015, 13:05
Malabo - The Ivory Coast must overcome the absence of the suspended Gervinho as they look to kickstart their Africa Cup of Nations campaign with a win against Mali in Malabo on Saturday.
The Elephants face their west African neighbours before Cameroon take on Guinea in a double header of games in Equatorial Guinea's capital in a group that is perfectly poised after both opening matches ended 1-1.
Herve Renard's Ivory Coast side failed to really impress in their first match against Guinea, although they did come from behind to earn a draw after Gervinho's red card, with substitute Seydou Doumbia their saviour.
Against Mali, Gervinho begins a two-match suspension handed down following his clash with Guinea's Naby Keita, and so it is without the Roma forward that the Elephants must try to forge a path through to the last eight.
However, Doumbia, after his starring role as a substitute, will be hoping to win a place in the starting line-up as Renard looks for his side to improve on what he described as an "average" performance against Guinea.
The Ivory Coast have a perfect Cup of Nations record against Mali, winning all three previous confrontations, including in the semi-finals in 2012.
But Henryk Kasperczak's Mali put up a good showing in drawing 1-1 against Cameroon in their opening game, showing enough to indicate that they can trouble a supposedly superior Ivorian side.
After that game, former Polish international Kasperczak was eager to play up his side's chances, saying: "Before the tournament I said it was a very well balanced group, with no favourites, even if most people thought Cameroon and the Ivory Coast were the favourites.
"But Mali are also a very good side in Africa just now. At the last Cup of Nations we were third and we are here to confirm that good performance."
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Win or lose on Saturday, nothing will be decided for any of the sides in the group, with Cameroon and Guinea preparing to meet in the second game of the day.
The Indomitable Lions are set to welcome back Stephane Mbia, who is available again after suspension kept him out of the draw with Mali and has recovered from a leg muscle injury suffered playing for his club at the start of this month which initially made him a doubt for the competition.
He will wear the captain's armband which had been given to Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting against Mali, while Eyong Enoh will miss the game.
The midfielder came off early in his side's opening game and did not train with the rest of his colleagues on Thursday, instead limiting himself to some light stretches on the side of the pitch, with his left thigh heavily strapped.
Guinea, who took some onlookers by surprise with the nature of their performance against the Ivory Coast, could recall Seydouba Soumah, their top scorer in qualifying who missed the opening game through suspension.
Captain Kamil Zayatte has also been working to recover from the calf problem that ruled him out against the Ivory Coast.