Gambia v Ivory Coast | Saturday 08 June | Bakau | 18:30
Ivory Coast’s road to the 2014 World Cup is on track as they lie top of their qualifying group with seven points from three matches. Tanzania are hot on their heels with six points, followed by Morocco and Gambia who have failed to impress thus far with just two points and one respectively. However, Ivory Coast face a potential banana skin this weekend as they travel to Bakau to face a new look Gambian side who are eager to put a dent in the number one ranked African team’s hopes of qualifying for the World Cup for a third consecutive time.
To Win (90mins)
Ivory Coast 11/20
Gambia prepare to host Ivory Coast after succumbing to a 3-0 defeat to the African football powerhouse in Abidjan in March. The Scorpions have called up sixteen foreign-based players this time. The list includes former captain Mustapha Jarjue and compatriot Ebrima Sawaneh, both playing in the Belgian Pro League, who did not make the trip to Ivory Coast in the reverse fixture. Veteran goalkeeper Pa Dembo Touray also makes a return while star Winger Sanna Nayssi has been included in coach Luciano Mancini's side. Ranked most outstanding midfielder in the MLS last season, the speedy winger is set to make a starting appearance after featuring as a substitute in the 3-0 loss to the Elephants. Surprises on the list are strikers Macoumba Kandji, who plays in Greece in the Second Division, and 18-year-old Ali Sowe, who plys his trade in the Italian Serie A for Chievo after recently bursting through their development teams. Gambia are ranked badly at 40th in Africa and 147th in the world compared to their superior opponents, who are at 12th in the world rankings. However, Italian coach Mancini will look to utilize home ground advantage with his new look side.
Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi has again left out Ivorian legend Didier Drogba as he looks to improve on the ageing ‘Golden Generation’ team. It is the second time in succession that he has been overlooked after the 35-year-old striker struggled during this year's Africa Cup of Nations and was then dropped for the match in March against Gambia. Manchester City defender Kolo Toure has also been left out of the 26-man group. Arsenal’s Gervinho has been included but will only be available for the qualifier against Tanzania next weekend after bagging two yellow cards from their two previous games. Other star names included are Salomon Kalou (Lille), Lacina Traore (Anzhi), Arouna Kone (Wigan), Seydou Doumbia (CSKA), Didier Zokora (Trabzonspor), Yaya Toure (Manchester City) and Cheick Tiote (Newcastle). Ivory Coast started their qualifying campaign with a 2-0 home win over Tanzania before struggling on the road against Morocco in a 2-2 stalemate. They then returned to form with their 3-0 home win over Gambia. They will now need to improve on their last away performance as they face an even more intimidating fixture in Morocco.
VERDICT: Ivory Coast 11/20
Ivory Coast’s loss against Nigeria in the quarter-finals of the AFCON was their first loss in 90 minutes since 2011. That means the Elephants have lost just one match in their last 27! Back Ivory Coast for the win as they take another step towards the 2014 Brazil World Cup.