MALABO, Equatorial Guinea, January 27 – The old adage that everything will be decided on the pitch may not prove to be true in the case of Group D at this year’s Africa Cup of Nations.
All four matches in the group have ended in 1-1 draws, leaving the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Guinea and Mali absolutely even ahead of the final games in Malabo and Mongomo on Wednesday.
Two more identical draws will mean the drawing of lots will be required to decide who progresses to the quarter-finals and in which order.
That would not be unprecedented, with the drawing of lots required at the 1988 Cup of Nations to send Algeria through to the knockout stage at the expense of the Ivory Coast, who had drawn all three of their matches.
The 2015 version of the Elephants will hope to win and thereby avoid a similar fate as they face Cameroon at the Estadio de Malabo.
Coach Herve Renard will again be without forward Gervinho, who completes a two-match suspension following his sending-off against Guinea, while midfielder Cheick Tiote will serve a one-game ban after being booked in both matches to date.
Meanwhile, Max-Alain Gradel could start after coming off the bench to grab the late equaliser against Mali.
“Cameroon have experienced players in every department. For us, except for Kolo Toure, we have no other experienced defender,” said Renard.
“It is a match that will be decided by little details. Concentration, an ability to take our chances and defensive rigour will all be important. Whichever team shows a little less of these things will go home.”
Salomon Kalou, who will also be hoping to be recalled after being dropped to the bench against Mali, called it “the final before the real final”.
“Cameroon is a great football nation and so is the Ivory Coast. All we want is to get through to the last eight, and now we have 90 minutes to show who wants it more.”
Recent history suggests Cameroon are best placed to win this encounter, though. After all, the Indomitable Lions won their qualifying group ahead of the Ivorians, trouncing the Elephants 4-1 in Yaounde in September before drawing 0-0 in the return match in Abidjan in November.
However, Cameroon are set to once again be without midfielder Eyong Enoh, who injured his left thigh in the opening match against Mali.
– Pogba injured –
At the same time, west African neighbours Mali and Guinea, the supposed outsiders before the tournament began, clash in Mongomo.
Both have impressed observers with their displays so far, although Mali have twice failed to see out leads in their games while Guinea could live to regret not seeing off the Ivory Coast after leading and having a one-man advantage.
Nevertheless, winger Ibrahima Traore, who scored against Cameroon at the weekend and has been one of the players of the tournament so far, said: “We are progressing. We have played against two of the tournament favourites and nobody expected us to take anything from them.
“It’s not over, we have a final to come and we’ll do everything to get the three points.”
Guinea coach Michel Dussuyer has defensive problems, however, with a calf problem having kept captain Kamil Zayatte on the sidelines so far while Florentin Pogba came off against Cameroon with a groin injury.
Germain Berthe is set to start in goal for Mali after Soumaila Diakite was ruled out for the rest of the competition with the groin injury that forced him off against the Ivorians.