After crushing the Panthers 3-0 in away fixture, the Ivorians are aiming for a similar outcome to strengthen their lead in Group C
Fresh from a 3-0 win over Gabon in the 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifying, Ivory Coast can’t wait to hit the last nail in the coffin of the visitors who are almost out of the race to Russia.
Coach Marc Wilmots appeased his critics with the Libreville win on Saturday and most likely wants more praise as his side take on the Gabonese in a return encounter that would be the affair of the Ivorians, who are eyeing a fourth Fifa World Cup ticket after participations at the 2006, 2010 and 2014 editions.
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Group C is turning into a two horse race involving Ivory Coast and Morocco, who currently boast of 7 and 5 points respectively, with Gabon and Mali on 2 and 1 points, having little chance of altering the standing.
Frenchman Herve Renard, who led Ivory Coast to the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations triumph in Equatorial Guinea, is now the gaffer of the Atlas Lions, who are beginning to believe they can return to the world stage after 19 years of absence, after they thrashed Mali 6-0 on Friday.
Who will eventually top Group C? The answer will come in November when the Elephants and the Atlas Lions lock horns in the final matchday.
Before then, each of the contenders are striving to rake enough points to reinforce their respective positions, which is what Gervinho and Co. would be attempting once more on Tuesday after a successful trip to Gabon three days ago.
Wilmots did not announce any grave injury situation ahead of the game, but might slightly change his starting eleven against a team with nothing at stake to fight for, visibly.
Ivory Coast want to win, win big with plenty of goals, which could emerge as the separating factor if they happen to end up with same points as Morocco.
However, that could heap unnecessary pressure on the team and lead to awful surprises like their 2-3 home defeat to Guinea in the 2019 Afcon qualifying at the same venue.
On the other hand, Gabon have their minds elsewhere, perhaps to use the game against Ivory Coast as a blueprint for the 2019 Afcon qualifying, or even looking further ahead.
Currently, the Panthers appear to be a team without organisation, ambition and structure. A few clever and determined players like Denis Bouanga and Mario Lemina have been outstanding so far in their campaign.
Secondly, the outfit lack leadership. A strong, charismatic and experienced player to lead the squad is quite absent. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is unanimously Gabon’s legend but he faces criticisms back home for ‘his lack of commitment’ in standing for the team.
Although the Borussia Dortmund’s forward will miss both legs against Ivory Coast, the Gabon team have long been trying to run their daily life without the 2015 African Footballer of the Year.
Ivory Coast vs. Gabon match will kick off at 17H30 GMT on Tuesday, September 05
At Stade de la Paix in Bouake, Ivory Coast’s second largest city
WHAT THEY SAID
Ivory Coast coach Marc Wilmots
“We are not going to play with the 3-0 victory in mind. We will be playing a new game altogether. I have told my players we have not achieved our objective which is the 2018 Fifa World Cup ticket. Playing Gabon here would even be more difficult because they are coming very relaxed against us.”
Gabon coach José Antonio Camacho
“We are not disheartened. We are still a team that is alive and we will play a nice game against Ivory Coast like we did in the first half of the first leg. We controlled the game and put the Elephants on the defensive. That can also happen in Bouake and my players are ready to repeat that. The outcome is not very important. We want to play a good game.”
After claiming a 3-0 win over Gabon in Libreville, Ivory Coast are hoping to blow them out in Bouake. However, it might not come so easy as the visitors could get a clearer view of things due to the lesser pressure on their shoulder henceforth.
Ivory Coast 3-1 Gabon