AFCON2017 Day 7 Observations

Dussuyer’s team selections are a concern

Ivory Coast coach Michel Dussuyer made key changes after a drab draw in the first match with Togo. Jonathan Kodjia made way for Wilfried Bony, Max Gradel for Salomon Kalou, and Cheick Doukoure came in for Jean Seri. While Bony somewhat justified his selection with the goal it was a return to a striker who, whether for club or country, has never looked comfortable playing the lone-striker role, for, in Kodjia, a striker who has shone for the last year in the national team jersey and offered far more mobility. Doukoure didn’t have much of an impact, though he had more of an influence in the second half when he became the deepest midfielder. Gradel was the brightest of the entrees but he was strangely substituted for Salomon Kalou.

The importance of making the right changes at the right time is a key requirement for an AFCON-winning coach – Renard and Hassan Shehata were certainly exemplary in that regard – but Dussuyer hasn’t yet shown that this is a strength of his, and it could be the undoing of his team. An element of doubt appears to have crept in, with the team that essentially named itself during qualifiers now unavoidably being tampered with. No one knows what Dussuyer’s best XI is now. It will make him an easy, convenient scapegoat if his team don’t progress from this group.

DR Congo’s opportune ways typified by Kabananga

The Leopards were thoroughly outplayed in the first half of their match with Morocco, but they had a sharper start this time around, with Junior Kabananga, Neeskens Kebano and Ndombe Mubele surprising the Ivory Coast defence with their intrepidness. Mubele gave left back Adama Traore a torrid time before he was substituted at half time for Simon Deli. Just like in their previous match, the Kazakhstan-based Junior Kabananga rose to the occasion, assisting Neeskens Kebano for the opener and then nodding home for DR Congo to regain their lead after Bony had equalised.

There’s a slice of luck needed in these competitions and DR Congo are getting their fair share so far. They are taking the opportunities gifted to them and have rode their luck with set-pieces in both games. Given their terrible defending of set pieces in this match, with Bony profiting for an equaliser, they will consider themselves fortunate to escape with a point as Ivory Coast had other countless chances. Yet DR Congo ride on and are now best placed to emerge out of this group going into the final matchday.

Ivory Coast are in a spot of bother

In the aftermath the Ivorian camp were keen to point that destiny is still in their hands. That they were in the same situation two years ago, with two points from two games, before they went on to beat Cameroon. They shouldn’t be feeling so confident this team around. They are facing an organised Morocco side which have shown that, despite not knowing their best XI pre-tournament, they are resilient and well-trained under Herve Renard, and are now settling and increasingly aware of their roles.

His former team could find the pressing of his team and the 5-4-1 system difficult to contend with. The Ivorian midfielders, particularly the hyped Franck Kessie, have been underwhelming so far in this tournament and they will have to bring their A game. Their attack will need to be significantly more cohesive to untangle a Morocco team with additional numbers in defence and only needing a draw to progress.

-Salim Masoud Said

Morocco finally come alive

This match was set up (by me) as the duel between the old master Claude Le Roy and his former apprentice Hervé Renard. With two negative coaches, it was reasonable to expect a tight game with Togo attempting to player for another draw to keep them well in contention, and Morocco misfiring as they did against DR Congo.

In fact, we got a wonderful open game, as Togo took the lead with a brilliant counter-attacking goal finished by Mathieu Dossevi, forcing Morocco to fight back and lead 2-1 within 25 minutes. Both sides created chances, but the Atlas Lions got a deserving win to kickstart their campaign after the disappointment of the opening game.

There are still flaws there. Aziz Bouhaddouz still doesn’t look like a front man who’s going to lead his team to AFCON glory. Nabil Dirar and Mbark Boussoufa are not filling the creativity void left by Belhanda, Boufal et. al, and Adebayor still had the beating of the defenders on more than one occasion, only for his finishing touch or aerial prowess to desert him.

But this was a much improved performance, with Faycal Fajr’s set pieces creating the two crucial goals after his addition to the side in place of Mehdi Carcela-Gonzalez. Teenager attacker Youssef En-Nesyri also looked impressive off the bench, scoring the third goal to clinch them the game. They can now face the champions confident of getting a result to take them through.

Agassa lets Togo’s chances slip through his fingers

Kossi Agassa has been a mainstay of this Togo team for over a decade. At 38 years old, he is at his seventh major tournament and sixth Cup of Nations, a run stretching back to 2000. But after a 19-year international career, his team as the Sparrowhawks number 1 may be drawing to a close, and today highlighted this more than ever.

The first two goals both came from set pieces. For the first goal, there may have been some contact from the defender and he will claim he was fouled, but an experienced goalkeeper like “Magic Hands” really ought to be commanding his area in situations like this. The second wasn’t entirely his fault, more down to poor marking, but again he could have done better. The third goal he really should have saved, the ball bouncing over his hands as he dived to make the save – a basic goalkeeping error.

Like Adebayor, Agassa has been without a club since the summer, after leaving Stade Reims at the start of the season. As much as anything, the standard of African goalkeeping has risen enormously over the last few years, so what might be written off in the past as the sort of error that nearly all Cup of Nations keepers would make cannot be now, but the truth is time and unemployment has caught up with one of Togo’s greatest ever players, and Le Roy now has an excuse and opportunity to make a change to either Cedric Mensah or Baba Tchagouni for the third group game.

It’s still wide open, but it’s in Morocco’s hands

After defeating his mentor, Renard now has another personally significant game coming up against the team he took to Cup of Nations glory two years ago. Ivory Coast have become draw specialists, but they now must win to progress – something they have only done once since the start of qualification, with five draws in six matches.

Morocco must therefore be feeling confident, having a solid, organised back three. Their stuttering attack may not matter hugely, because it’ll be far more important to keep Ivory Coast out – a clean sheet takes them through. This is the sort of situation where you would back Renard to make the right calls and set up his team in the right way, because he is a knockout football specialist – something Ivory Coast know well. Their fate is in their own hands.

Despite two lacklustre performances, Togo can say the same, although their task may be a bit tougher. A win by two clear goals against DR Congo will be enough to take them through regardless of what happens in the other game, as it will take them above DR Congo in any head-to-head situation – even if the other game ends in a draw and three of the four teams end up on 4 points. And the thing is, despite two positive results, DR Congo don’t look secure enough for anyone to say that this isn’t plausible. Le Roy, like Renard, is going up against the team he used to manage – who’d bet against him?

-James Bennett


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