MALABO,Equatorial Guinea, January 31 – The Ivory Coast and pre-tournament favourites Algeria go head to head in Malabo on Sunday in what has the makings of a classic quarter-final at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Ghana and Guinea meet in the first of a double-header of last-eight ties in Equatorial Guinea’s capital earlier in the day before Herve Renard’s Elephants face the leading side in Africa according to the FIFA rankings.
Neutrals will be hoping for a repeat of the 2010 quarter-final encounter between the teams in Angola, when the Ivory Coast led 2-1 going into injury time only for Algeria to equalise before triumphing 3-2 after extra time.
However, Ivorian coach Herve Renard will settle for a solid defensive display from his side. For all the attention given to captain Yaya Toure and an attack led by Wilfried Bony, it was their defence which particularly impressed in Wednesday’s 1-0 defeat of Cameroon which took the Elephants through.
“There are not many teams in the world who are capable of attacking all the time. At international level Spain have been able to play that way and today maybe Germany too. But we are not Germany, we are Ivory Coast,” said a pragmatic Renard.
In the opposite dugout will be Renard’s fellow Frenchman Christian Gourcuff, an advocate of passing football.
He frequently complained that his team were unable to string passes together in their first two group games in Mongomo but saw an improvement in the 2-0 defeat of Senegal in Malabo on Tuesday that took his team through.
With five goals, Algeria were the most prolific team in the group stage and have enough depth in attack to cope without striker Islam Slimani, who has been struggling with a thigh problem. Winger Yacine Brahimi should be fine despite coming off hurt against Senegal.
Renard, meanwhile, has Gervinho and Cheick Tiote available again after suspension.
– Guinea, Ghana renew hostilities –
Earlier on Sunday, Guinea will be hoping that luck is still on their side as they take on Ghana in a game that was moved to the Estadio de Malabo because of concerns about the surface in Mongomo.
The Syli Nationale survived in the competition only after winning a drawing of lots on Thursday to emerge from Group D at the expense of Mali.
Guinea drew 1-1 in all three group games and are now setting their sights on going beyond the quarter-finals for the first time since the Cup of Nations was expanded to 16 teams in 1996.
“When we found out it was us, there was a great explosion of joy. But, of course, I had a thought for the Malians,” said Guinea coach Michel Dussuyer of the surreal manner in which his side went through.
“It is tough, because they also deserved to go through. They missed a penalty against us and then they go out on a drawing of lots. Luck was on our side. But if we have got to the quarter-finals it is because we deserved to somewhere.”
The sides met in qualifying, with the Black Stars having the edge thanks to a 1-1 draw and then a 3-1 victory.
And Avram Grant’s Ghana then finished top of a tough group ahead of Algeria, Senegal and South Africa.
Defender Daniel Amartey has declared himself fit to feature for the Black Stars after coming off early in the 2-1 defeat of South Africa on Tuesday.
Florentin Pogba has already left the Guinea squad because of a groin injury, while captain Kamil Zayatte has not yet featured at the finals due to a calf problem. Stand-in skipper Ibrahima Traore is expected to play despite coming off against Mali.