Ivory Coast coach Marc Wilmots has played down talks that his charges will have an easy ride over the Panthers of Gabon due to the absence of star player Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and veteran goalkeeper Didier Ovono, both of whom are sidelined due to injuries for the double header of September 2 and 5 in Libreville and Bouake.
The Belgian coach held his pre-match presser in Abidjan on Tuesday, accompanied by two senior players of the Elephants, former Chelsea winger Salomon Kalou and Gervinho, who had a spell at Arsenal.
“Don’t think because Aubameyang and Co. are not playing we will defeat Gabon easily, no! They have a very good team and are also determined like us to go to Russia 2018,” Wilmots said.
“I have seen them play, but I don’t really know the team they will field against us. But one thing for sure is we are ready to face them. We are trying to reconstruct a strong team that we plan to take to the 2018 World Cup. That is our objective and nothing less and we believe we can make it.”
Ivory Coast lost their two previous matches under Wilmots. A 3-2 defeat to Guinea in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier last June and a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Netherlands in a friendly played in Rotterdam the same month.
However, the coach believes those losses were learning curves and that his team will emerge stronger, starting from the Gabon outing.
“We lost those games, but that is football and it is experience. Our current state of mind is strong and perfect. We are going to play the first leg, and the goal is not to lose. And for the second leg, holding here in Bouake, we need to win. That is mandatory if we must maintain our top of the table status,” he said.
Ivory Coast are currently leaders of Group E with 4 points followed by Morocco and Gabon, who are on 2 points each, while Mali have one.
The first leg between Gabon and Ivory Coast comes up at Stade de Franceville, Franceville in Gabon on Saturday September 2 at 18H GMT while the return leg will hold in Ivory Coast’s second largest city, Bouake, on Tuesday September 5 at 17H30 GMT.