Ivory Coast led Group C of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying across a better part of the campaign but a home loss to Gabon in Bouake and a draw against Mali in an away fixture forced the Elephants to drop valuable points in favour of a brilliant Moroccan side.
One point now separates both teams ahead of Saturday’s clash. The Atlas Lions are on top with 9 while the Ivorians hold 8.
Any outcome short of a win will definitely kick the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations winners out of the race, with Morocco sealing their place in Russia.
Technically, Ivory Coast appears rickety. Starting from the back-half upward, the team lack cohesion and have been struggling to present any readable pattern.
Seven goals scored so far and just two conceded in the competition sound quite impressive for the stats, but those who watched those games could testify that the achievement came unfashionably and that the team still need a lot of work to do to be truly competitive.
Coach Marc Wilmots himself has admitted that his set-up is yet to rev to life, but that they are counting on determination to stop Morocco in Abidjan.
Would that be enough to surmount the North Africans who have registered 9 goals without conceding any?
Watching Morocco play, you can easily infer that they have a better understanding and flow than the Ivorians, thanks to a long period of playing together.
They have pace and launch onslaughts mostly from the wings, which the Ivorian defence needs to prepare for. The absence of Manchester United full-back Eric Bailly, due to accumulated cards, is a blow for the hosts. However, with the Ivorians needing all three points, they would likely attack more which could prevent the Lions from pushing forth.
Herve Renard, who is being presented by the local media as one with a rather ‘total’ knowledge of the Ivorian team having led them to clinch the 2015 Afcon, has his own weakness in the qualifiers, though. He has not won a match on the road. His exploits have been goalless draws – against Gabon and Mali, which would just been enough to snaffle the group’s ticket to Russia, if he gets that result against Ivory Coast in Abidjan on Saturday.
Ivory Coast vs. Morocco match will kick off at 17H30 GMT on Saturday, November 11.
At the Felixs Houphouet Boigny Stadium in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s largest city.
WHAT THEY SAID
Ivory Coast coach Marc Wilmots
“My players are motivated. They are 200% ready for the game. It is going to be difficult but I can feel the determination. The players want to go to the World Cup. The supporters want to go. The local media want to go. So, the entire nation is behind us.”
Morocco coach Herve Renard
“Ivory Coast is a team I love and respect. I will always have a great esteem for them. Playing them in the final matchday of the qualifiers would be a great pleasure and I believe my team is capable of claiming a good result even while playing away.”
One thing that could determine the fate of the game is determination, fighting spirit. And clearly, the Ivorians appear to be the hungrier side for a win, however the margin. That would be the first thing the Moroccans need to quench if they want to grab the sole ticket at stake.
Ivory Coast 2-1 Morocco