Since transforming the Ivory Coast into African champions four years ago, Herve Renard has tormented them as coach of Morocco. The 50-year-old Frenchman, whose matchday shirts are always white, ensured the 2017 title defence of the Ivorians did not last beyond the first round as they fell 1-0 to the Moroccans.
Renard inflicted more misery on his former team in 2018 World Cup qualifying with a 2-0 triumph in Abidjan taking Morocco to Russia at the expense of the Ivory Coast. Considered potential winners of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt, Morocco and the Ivory Coast meet Friday in a Group D top-of-the-table showdown in Cairo. “This is a special game for me,” said Renard, the only coach to win the Cup of Nations with two countries, Zambia and the Ivory Coast.
Here is a preview of the Group D doubleheader with the Ivory Coast-Morocco clash followed by Namibia against South Africa, while Group E leaders Mali face Tunisia in Suez.
Ivory Coast v Morocco: Both countries launched their campaigns with solitary-goal victories in mid-afternoon Cairo heat, but the Ivorians will have been the happier side. While they outmuscled South Africa and should have won by more than a Jonathan Kodjia strike. Morocco laboured to a win that came via a late Itamunua Keimuine own-goal.
Ivory Coast coach Ibrahim Kamara said “the result was more important than the performance. It was critical not to fail in our opening match”. Rather than slam a lacklustre Moroccan display, Renard hailed Namibia: “They were well organised and coached.”
While both nations should make the last 16, winning the group would set up a fixture against one of the third-place qualifiers while coming second means taking on the Group E winners.
Namibia v South Africa: Namibia coach Ricardo Mannetti played for his country when they were humiliated 4-1 by South Africa at the 1998 Cup of Nations in Burkina Faso
“The best way to banish those memories would be to beat Bafana Bafana (The Boys). We have never won a Cup of Nations match and that is our priority,” he said. “My players were heartbroken after holding Morocco for 89 minutes and then losing to an own-goal.”
South Africa were inept against the Ivorians and this match could decide which country sneaks through as a third-place finisher and which makes an early exit. England-born coach Stuart Baxter has warned his players not to underestimate Namibia because “this match is like a cup final for them”.
Mali v Tunisia: Tunisia coach and former France star Alain Giresse knows what to expect from Mali as he coached them twice at the Cup of Nations with mixed results. Under him, the Malians came third at the 2012 Cup of Nations in Gabon but made a first-round exit in the same country two years ago without winning a match.
Now Giresse hopes to bring the Malian Eagles down to earth after they achieved the biggest win of the 12 first series matches in Egypt, a 4-1 hammering of debutants Mauritania. The Mali scorers included burly Moussa Marega, who notched six goals for Porto in the Champions League last season, the equal third best tally.
Tunisia were the only one of the six top group seeds not to collect maximum points and midfielder Ferjani Sassi blamed “an inability to convert chances” for a 1-1 draw with Angola.
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