OYEM, Gabon, Jan 23 – Having guided the Ivory Coast to glory at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, Herve Renard is now hoping to end his former side’s defence of the trophy when they face his Morocco team on Tuesday.
The script could not have been better written, with Renard’s Morocco and the Elephants clashing in a winner takes all final Group C showdown in the northern Gabonese town of Oyem, kicking off at 10pm (1900 GMT).
The Atlas Lions have not made it beyond the group stage at the Cup of Nations since reaching the final in 2004 but a 3-1 win against Togo on Friday put them in a position to progress to the last eight.
A draw would also favour them, while DR Congo and Togo meet in the night’s other game in Port-Gentil.
The Ivorians, though, have no choice but to win if they are to advance after drawing their first two matches.
“In 2015 we found ourselves in the same situation with two draws and we won 1-0 against Cameroon,” recalled Renard of a slow start to his triumphant campaign at the helm of the Ivory Coast in Equatorial Guinea.
He left that role to become coach of Lille in his native France, but a disappointing and short-lived experience in Ligue 1 precipitated a return to the African scene with Morocco.
Here he is hoping to win the trophy for a third time having also triumphed with Zambia in Gabon in 2012.
Now coached by Renard’s fellow Frenchman Michel Dussuyer, the Ivorians have so far drawn with both Togo and DR Congo but the noises coming out of their camp remain optimistic.
“We are calm. It is those outside the squad who are more worried,” insisted Paris Saint-Germain defender Serge Aurier.
“We are here and we are trying to progress from one game to the next. We will do everything to try to qualify.”
At the same time as that game, DR Congo and Togo clash on a shocking pitch in the port city of Port-Gentil.
The task appears to be a simple one for DR Congo, who are top with four points and need only a draw to be certain of progressing to the last eight, although a win will confirm them as group winners.
Third at the 2015 Cup of Nations, the Leopards lost star man Yannick Bolasie to injury barely a month before the tournament began and were then rocked by a row over unpaid bonuses on the eve of the competition.
– ‘Potential banana skin’ –
But they have been impressive so far in beating Morocco and drawing with the Ivory Coast, and coach Florent Ibenge is now hoping to finish the job.
He had a word of warning for his players, however, saying: “Since the beginning I have said that Togo are more than tough opponents.
“They remind me of our team in 2015, so I am very wary. That is why I say that we are not through yet. This match is a potential banana skin,” added Ibenge, who saw full-back Jordan Ikoko come off hurt against the Ivorians.
Togo are bottom of the group and must win if they are to stay in the competition.
They will however have much of the crowd behind them thanks to the sizeable Togolese community based in Port-Gentil.
They already gave the team a noisy and colourful welcome as they arrived on Sunday at the hotel they are sharing with the Ghana delegation.
“If we win our third match we will be through. Our position will be much more comfortable than in qualifying,” said Togo coach Claude Le Roy, whose side scraped into the finals as one of the best runners-up in the qualifying campaign.