Yaya Toure may lead Elephants' onslaught on the Eagles
By Tunde Sulaiman, with agency reports
Super Eagles defenders, likely marshalled by Joseph Yobo, may have to contend with a different threat from Cote d’Ivoire after it emerged that Elephants’ coach, Sabri Lamouchi, is toying with the idea of excluding Didier Drogba from his starting line up in their crunch quarter-final clash with Nigeria Sunday afternoon.
The former European Championship star with France at Euro’96 took the big gamble of dropping the talismanic Elephants’ skipper in their second group game, which produced Cote d’Ivoire's most convincing performance and secured knock out qualification with a 3-0 bashing of Tunisia.
Lamouchi has hinted he may go back to that selection for the game at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace.
"We must find a pattern that suits the squad and the one we used against Tunisia was well done and well understood by the players," said Lamouchi, indicating he is tempted to play a similar tactic against Nigeria on Sunday.
In the game against the 2004 Nations Cup winners, the former Les Blues midfielder opted to push current African Footballer of the Year, Yaya Toure into a more offensive midfield role, where the Manchester City star at times played just behind the striker.
Relishing in the role, which he plays for the English Premier League champions at times, Toure found the back of the net in the 87th minute against the Carthage Eagles.
Lamouchi’s Nigerian opposite number, Stephen Keshi, who is hampered by the absence of midfield enforcer, Vallerenge of Norway’s Fegor Ogude due to yellow card offences, is likely to re-instate his skipper, Yobo to the heart of his defence after giving the former Everton star a cameo performance in the Eagles’ final group game against Ethiopia.
The Fenerbahce defender came on as a late substitute for John Obi Mikel in the game, which the Eagles won 2-0 to set up Sunday’s clash with their West African rivals.
Speaking ahead of the clash, a confident sounding Keshi told the BBC: "I'm not under any pressure but I'm under Stephen Keshi's pressure, to do well for Nigerians. Any outside pressure does not exist with me. But I have my own targets and goals I want to achieve. Now if you want to call that pressure, that's pressure.
"We have our confidence. Nigerians have decided we are failures already but we will come out and show something quality about our game on Sunday."
However, Keshi will also have to contend with the fact that his team may be jaded after he was not able to rest players in the third group game unlike the Elephants, a factor Lamouchi feels could be vital.
"From the moment we were sure to play our quarter-final in Rustenburg because we had ensured first place, it was essential to rotate the players," he told reporters on Saturday.
"It was obvious that we should not take risks with injury or players picking up cards."
Despite virtually all the experts and bookmakers giving the match to the Francophone side, the former Marseille star is not getting carried away insisting that the game will not be a mere formality.
"This will be a tough game whose outcome will be settled in the small details," Lamouchi added.
Meanwhile in the second game of the day, outsiders Burkina Faso and Togo meet in Nelspruit, seeking to continue their surprise run at the tournament in South Africa, reports Reuters.
Unlike Drogba's tenuous hold on his starting spot, fellow striker, Emmanuel Adebayor has been the catalyst for Togo reaching the quarter-finals for the first time and will be key to their hopes again versus Burkina Faso.
The finishing ability of the tall Tottenham Hotspur forward, who just weeks ago was not sure if he would be competing at the finals, is Togo's best chance of finding the net.
The Burkinabe eliminated defending champions Zambia in a show of surprising strength but have since lost their top scorer Alain Traore to injury.
Sunday's games will complete the semi-final line-up after home hopes were dashed by South Africa's penalty shootout loss to Mali in Durban after Ghana ended the fairytale run of the Cape Verde Islands in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
The Super Eagles/Elephants showdown comes up at 4pm (Nigerian time) while the second quarter-final clash between Burkina Faso and Togo takes place at 7.30pm.
AFCON 2013 FIXTURES
Cote d’Ivoire v Nigeria 15:00 (4pm Nig Time)
Burkina Faso v Togo 18:30 (7.30pm Nig Time)