Ivory Coast looking to boost its confidence

TALES AZZONI AP Sports Writer Published:

RUSTENBURG, South Africa (AP) -- Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi expects more than a victory when his team plays Tunisia at the African Cup of Nations on Saturday. He wants the tournament favorite to play better and boost its confidence after a disappointing start.

Lamouchi was upset with his team's lackluster performance in a 2-1 win over Togo on Tuesday, and said playing well again will be just as important as winning and advancing to the quarterfinals.

Tunisia also won its group opener and can move into a good position to reach the next round with a win of its own at Royal Bafokeng Stadium. Coach Sami Trabelsi said he knows how good Ivory Coast is but doesn't see it as an "unbeatable" team.

Depending on Saturday's group results, a victory may be enough to secure the match winner a spot in the quarterfinals in advance.

The other Group D match in Rustenburg is between first-round losers Algeria and Togo. Ivory Coast and Tunisia have three points each, while Algeria and Togo have zero.

"This is not a life-or-death game," Lamouchi said on Friday, through a translator. "Tomorrow, what is more important to me is the performance of the Elephants. Of course, taking the maximum points is also important, but we need to play better. We have to try to avoid making the same mistakes as we did the last time."

An 88th-minute goal beat Togo, but Ivory Coast reacted with muted pleasure.

"It's important for us to win the game and to perform well," midfielder Ismael Traore said. "It will be good for the rest of our tournament. It's important to work as a group to try to reach those objectives."

Lamouchi said he and his players thoroughly discussed the areas in which the team needs to improve.

"We all know that our last performance was not our best," he said. "The Elephants did not live up to their reputation in that last game. We talked among ourselves and we are trying to deal with the situation so we can improve."

Led by Didier Drogba and several Europe-based players, Ivory Coast is seeking its first African title in more than 20 years. It was runner-up to Zambia in last year's final.

Tunisia won its only title in 2004, as the host team, but it has reached the tournament's quarterfinals every time since a runner-up finish in 1996.

Trabelsi thinks Tunisia will also have to improve from its 1-0 win over Algeria, when it was outplayed during most of the match and escaped with victory only after a brilliant long-range shot by Youssef Msakni in the first minute of stoppage time.

He said his team will have to play better to have a chance against a team filled with top players.

"It's a very good team," Trabelsi said of Ivory Coast. "They are very experienced, they have good quality. But as with any other team, they have shown some weaknesses, especially in their first game of the tournament. We have to keep our eyes open because they have players who can turn the course of the game at any time. They are not unbeatable."

Trabelsi will be without top striker Issam Jemaa, who sprained his knee just 15 minutes into the opener and will miss the rest of the tournament.

"Certainly Issam was important for us," Trabelsi said. "But we have alternatives that we have planned from the beginning."

Algeria and Togo need to win to remain with real chances of advancing. Togo coach Didier Six missed the official pre-match press conference on Friday, sending an assistant in his place.

Six had walked out of the post-match news conference on Tuesday after saying just a few words, apparently upset with the referee's decision to cancel a Togo goal in the second half.

The team did not explain why Six was not at Friday's conference.


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