Hosts Ivory Coast pin hopes on Haller return

Sebastien Haller

Ivory Coast are hoping to have striker Sebastien Haller back from injury for their last Africa Cup of Nations group game after their coach Jean-Louis Gasset admitted they were out-muscled against Nigeria on Thursday.

The host nation lost 1-0 in their second Group A game and are now under pressure to get a result when they conclude the opening phase of the tournament against Equatorial Guinea on Monday.

The Ivorians are third in the group standings with three points, one behind both Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria, and will be looking for a win to make sure of their progress to the last 16.

Gasset said he hopes Haller, who missed the opening two games with an ankle injury, will be back to help add some bite to his side.“The medical team has been working day and night to get him ready. His ankle is healed but it’s the physical work that remains to get him fit. I sincerely hope that Sebastien will be able to participate in the third match with us.”

The tall Borussia Dortmund striker will provide a focal point for the Ivorian attacks, which were easily stymied by a five-man Nigerian defence on Thursday in a disappointing spectacle for the home fans.

“It was a very physical match. Nigeria chose to defend very low with a five-man defence. They slowed us down by refusing to play. We had to be patient, we had to be defensive, we had to try and get past them on the wing,” added Gasset, France’s former assistant coach.

“We didn’t feel like we could compete physically. We had opportunities when we got the ball into their box, but it was the big Nigerians who inevitably cleared the ball. In the end it was a small detail that made the difference and gave them a penalty.”

A kick in the calf of Nigerian forward Victor Osimhen from 20-year-old Ivorian defender Ousmane Diomande led to a penalty after a lengthy VAR review and William Troost-Ekong converted to hand Nigeria a first win on Ivorian soil.

“We have a young team without much experience, although plenty in terms of quality. I didn't have the impression that the Nigerian team was superior to us but there is still work to be done. This is the start of the competition. We won the first game, we lost the second. We will do our best to win the third,” Gasset added.Egypt in 2006 were the last host nation to win the Cup of Nations.

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