LIBREVILLE – Ivory Coast have their sights sets on winning the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, but first they have to deal with West Africans neighbours Mali in the second semifinal tonight.
The Stade d’Angondjé in Libreville will serve as the battleground as two African powerhouses clash for a place in the final.
The Elephants were already touted as favourites long before the tournament kicked off based on the quality of their squad, and so far they have lived up to expectation.
Francois Zahoui’s men won all their group matches without conceding a single goal and went on to book their place in the semifinals with an emphatic 3-0 win over hosts Equatorial Guinea.
The journey has not been as smooth for the Eagles of Mali; after losing their second group match against the other favourites, Ghana, Mali were facing elimination ahead of their final group match.
They managed to beat Botswana 2-1 to clinch second position over Guinea, who could only muster a 1-1 draw against Ghana.
The quarterfinals proved to be another tough hurdle for Alain Giresse’s side as they took on hosts Gabon in a tightly-contested clash that ended 1-1 after regulation time.
The score remained the same after extra time but Mali were able to hold their nerves to clinch it 5-4 on penalties.
Ivory Coast were runners-up in 2006, semifinalists in 2008 and lost against Algeria in the quarterfinal in 2010.
Veteran Didier Zokora says they have approached each match as a final and have used their past disappointments as motivation.
“We have six finals to play. Tomorrow (Wednesday) is our fifth final,” Zokora told The Republic. “We have a very big ambition. I have played five African Cups and have never won.
“Of course we have very big players like Yaya Toure and (Didier) Drogba but we have never won a trophy in Africa together. I think today is our best chance to take this trophy.”
Meanwhile, Mali’s Samba Sow says despite having a lot of respect for the Ivorians, they are highly motivated for this do-or-die clash.
“I’ve dreamed of playing matches against the Ivory Coast,” Sow told Malifootball.com. “My dream has come true.
“We will not ask questions. We will play to win like we did from the beginning.”
Ivory Coast have had an upper hand on Mali in recent years, winning their last meeting in the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations 3-0, and beating them 1-0 in a friendly match in 2011.