Ivory Coast v Guinea
by Maher Mezahi
Guinean wingers impress in 4-3-3
Michel Dussuyer’s 4-3-3, which employs the use of inverted wingers, continues to trouble African defences. Though Seydouba Soumah was suspended for this opening match, Ibrahima Conte did a fantastic job replacing him. On the other flank, Ibrahima Traore was simply untenable. The Gladbach man gave ADO Den Haag’s Wilfried Kalon a torrid time, twisting and turning before unleashing productive crosses or shots. Kevin Constant is a key cog in this system, as he is the outlet to either winger with his long-range passing. So long as they can make space for wingers to run at fullbacks, Guinea will continue to trouble their opposition.
Defensive lapses continue to haunt Cote d’Ivoire
The biggest criticism the Ivory Coast faced heading into this tournament was their inability to keep out goals. Since the return of Kolo Toure, the backline has looked a lot less porous, but against Guinea, individual mistakes were cost Les Elephants. In an attempt to clear an Ibrahima Traore cross, Serge Aurier headed the ball weakly right into Mohamed Yattara’s path who made no mistake finishing. Never mind an extended run, if Herve Renard can’t find a way to stem such gaffes, Yaya and co will be heading home before the quarter finals.
Yaya Subpar, but Kevin is Constant
It was a tale of two players in central midfield on Tuesday night. Yaya Toure for the Ivory Coast and Kevin Constant for the Syli Nationale. Yaya took all of Cote d’Ivoire’s set-pieces, and, on the ball, the Manchester City man played well. But the fast-paced gameplay passed him by for most of the match as is often the problem in Africa. It is unclear if Yaya is unfit or if he’s carrying some kind of niggle (rumours are that he is), but what’s for certain is that he is not at the top of his form. Kevin Constant, on the other hand, was Guinea’s heartbeat. His industry allowed for Guinea’s wingers to free themselves and, on the ball, he rarely put a foot wrong.
Mali vs. Cameroon
Mali not to be underestimated – they can go far, again.
People, including me, find it difficult to back Mali. Of course, their bone-chillingly dour brand of football has never won them many admirers in the past, but their record of countless semi-final appearances in the last decade or so is to be greatly admired, whatever one’s reservations.
A large part of AFCON, and major tournament football in general, is about being accustomed to playing at that stage as a team and as a country. You need to have the self-entitlement, borderline arrogance to feel that it’s your divine right to go far, insofar that you’re desensitised to the whole environment and pressure. It is why we often witness Brazil and Germany reach the semi-finals even in eras when their teams are mostly filled with workaday players.
While Mali’s national team cabinet isn’t glowing with AFCON trophies you, begrudgingly, have to say they are one of the likeliest at the tournament to be desensitised to it all. They are used to being at AFCONs, with several squad members having made multiple appearances. Seven of the players in the starting XI tonight versus Cameroon have tasted finishing third before. Moreover, the likes of Soumbeila Diakite, Adama Tamboura and Drissa Diakite, all part of the defence tonight, have been in the national team set up for around a decade.
Cameroon and Ivory Coast are playing under pressure. Though they’re both going under transition periods to varying degrees, not qualifying for the knockout stages would constitute monumental failure. Mali, meanwhile, showed today that they’re not playing under any sort of duress; happy to be understated like in previous editions, happy to be in Equatorial Guinea – though certainly not for major tournament tourism going by tonight’s performance.
Their lovably rolypoly coach Henryk Kasperczak may have set a target of finishing beyond third this time around, but you’d wager there wouldn’t be too many raised eyebrows if they exit in the group stages. No excessive pressure on Mali, then. despite their terrific track record. And with the addition of the explosiveness of Bakary Sako into the attack, even their detractors may find them that little bit more likeable.
Eric Choupo-Nothing and Benjamin MoukandjWHO?
That Cameroon lack creativity through the centre is no secret. It, naturally, means they struggle to dictate the tempo of games and, for all his disruptiveness in the past and his lack of pace being unsuited to their tactical rebrand, Alex Song is the only player they have at their disposal who comes close to filling the void.
The tools of creativity in the Cameroon fall to the wings, then, where the mercurial duo of Eric Choupo-Moting and Benjamin Moukandjo reside. On their day, they can terrorise the best teams in the world, as they showed in the run up to the World Cup, raising everyone’s expectations with a sparkling performance against eventual World Cup winners Germany in a warm up friendly.
But when it all matters, the duo seem to disappear. Although off-field drama in Brazil may have played its part, the quality can always be justified on the pitch – and unlike, for example, Stephane Mbia, who left the World Cup with his reputation intact, both Choupo-Moting and Moukandjo may as well have stayed at home and watched it on TV with the rest of us.
They were typically anonymous tonight against a Mali team that may be intransigent and overly physical but you can get joy out of, particularly on Tamboura’s left side. Moukandjo, in fairness, has always been enigmatic, but if you consider Choupo-Moting’s impressive form for Schalke and in Cameroon fixtures that are low pressure, his fluctuations in form are mind-boggling.
Cameroon can’t sleepwalk through this tournament purely relying on the relentless endeavour of Vincent Aboubakar or even Clinton N’Jie. If they are to progress to the very latter stages, they will need senior figures like Choupo-Moting and Moukandjo to also rise to the occasion. And their coach to stop dithering with the team selections.