Libreville — Solid defence has proven the key to the progress of Cote d’Ivoire to the African Nations Cup final – more than the star-studded attack they possess.
Coach Francois Zahoui says a backline determined not to concede any goals has been the cornerstone for his side in the tournament and the foundation on which their progress to Sunday’s deciding game has been built.
The Ivorians kept yet another clean sheet on Wednesday when they beat Mali 1-0 in their semi-final match-up in Libreville.
They are now on course to matching their achievement of 1992 – their only past success in the tournament – by going through the entire event without letting in a goal.
“We think that we had a lot of pressure but the advantage that we have, is that we have 23 players who want desperately to get to the final,” said Zahoui.
“We know there is a big expectation on our team but we know too that the players really want to get to the last stage of the competition. So they’ve proven they can handle the stress.”
Zahoui has been criticised because his side lacks the flamboyance of past teams. But he is pragmatic in his quest for the title.
“We have to play a good game with our attack but defence is crucial,” insisted the coach.
A goal from Arsenal’s Gervinho ensured the 1-0 win over Mali on Wednesday, a magical spark of individual brilliance lightening up a dour encounter that also saw the Ivorians hit Mali’s woodwork twice.
Both sides looked tired playing a fifth game in the last 18 days, with key players like Didier Drogba and Seydou Keita failing to make an effective contribution.
Mali were particularly drained after the energy-sapping drama of their win in the quarter-finals over home nation Gabon. They created few chances but did prove competitive in a congested midfield. Samba Diakite and Samba Sow in the midfield stood out.
The Ivorians will now need rest and recuperation more than any more preparation as they await Sunday’s final in Libreville against Zambia.