Crunch time for Ivory Coast at Nations Cup
The time has come for Ivory Coast's talented generation to deliver when they face Algeria in a clash between World Cup-bound teams in the quarter-finals of the African Nations Cup on Sunday.
"This generation will be playing for high stakes in the coming week. We lose all or we win all. It's money time," coach Vahid Halilhodzic told a news conference ahead of the game at Cabinda's Chazi Stadium.
With an average age of about 28, this year represents an excellent chance for Ivory Coast to win the tournament for the first time since 1992.
The Ivorians, who got off to a sluggish start with a goalless draw against Burkina Faso, found their form in a 3-1 defeat of Ghana but Algeria may prove a tougher nut to crack.
Algeria qualified for the World Cup with a playoff win against twice African champions Egypt in November, a feat that made quite an impression on Halilhodzic.
Although Algeria slumped to a 3-0 defeat to Malawi in their Nations Cup opener, the Bosnian knows his Ivorians face a tricky test.
"Algeria knocked out Egypt (in the World Cup), that's a big reference," he said. "They have a very compact midfield and a good defence."
Should Ivory Coast win they face the possibility of a repeat of the 2008 semi-final against Egypt, who will be the hot favourites against Cameroon in Benguela on Monday after strolling through the group phase with three wins.
The Pharaohs, who thrashed Ivory Coast 4-1 two years ago en route to a second straight title, are unbeaten in their last 16 Nations Cup games while Cameroon have been showing weaknesses.
Their central defence, with the ageing Rigobert Song playing in a record eighth Nations Cup, were at fault in the Indomitable Lions's first two matches.
Samuel Eto'o netted two important goals but the Inter Milan striker's talent might not be enough for Cameroon to make up for Egypt's neat passing game.
Injury-ravaged Ghana will once again have to rely on several players who won the Under-20 World Cup in October when they take on hosts Angola on Sunday in Luanda.
The Black Stars have to make do without John Paintsil, John Mensah and Stephen Appiah, who missed the trip to Angola, and playmaker Michael Essien of Chelsea who returned to England after picking up a knee injury.
"I respect Angola. They are a good team but we shall give our best on Sunday. I have faith in my youthful players and so far they have proved to be good fighters," said Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac.
Of the five World Cup-bound teams in Angola, Nigeria are expected to have the easiest ride in Lubango on Monday when they face surprise packages Zambia who were top of their group ahead of Cameroon.
"It is a bonus for us now but it is a bonus we must want to take," Zambia coach Herve Renard told Reuters in an interview on Friday.