Elephants chase fast start at AFCON

Cote d’Ivoire will chase a fast start in their Total Energies Africa Cup of Nations campaign when they face Group E rivals Equatorial Guinea at the Japoma Stadium in Douala on Wednesday evening.

Kick-off is at 7pm GMT.

The Ivorians are two-time AFCON champions (most recently in 2015) and looked capable of going all the way at the last tournament in 2019, only to be eliminated in the quarterfinals – via penalties – by eventual champions Algeria.

Led by coach Patrice Beaumelle (who was assistant to Herve Renard for the Cote d’Ivoire’s 2015 AFCON success), the Elephants are amongst the favourites for this tournament but will need to make a statement of intent from early on.

Beaumelle is also hoping this generation become ‘poster heroes’ for youngsters, much as the Ivory Coast team from the mid-2000s to the mid-2010s managed.

“Young players have pictures of former stars in their rooms, so why can’t they follow in their footsteps?” explained Beaumelle. “Perhaps the best example is Kylian Mbappe, who managed to fulfil his childhood dreams. The Elephants can do the same, and I’m here to help them do that.”

Equatorial Guinea, meanwhile, are returning to the AFCON for the first time since their surprise semifinal appearance in 2015 (when they were hosts). Their only other appearance was as co-hosts (with Gabon) in 2012 when they got as far as the quarterfinals.

Nzalang Nacional coach’s Juan Micha is ready for the challenge of a first tournament away from home: “All the matches will be very important for us. We will take them all very seriously. This is the first time that Nzalang Nacional will play an African Cup of Nations away from their facilities and their fans. It will be a great experience for us. We know Côte d’Ivoire well. It won’t be a surprise for us. They are a very strong team.”

In head-to-head stats, Equatorial Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire have met in two matches across all competitions since 2012, with the Elephant claiming one win compared to zero for Nzalang Nacional, while one game has been drawn.

The teams last met in an international friendly in March 2015 in Abidjan, with the clash ending 1-1 after goals from Max Gradel and Iban Salvador. – Reuters

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