RUSTENBURG: Ivory Coast midfielder Max Gradel reckons coach Sabri Lamouchi has introduced a title-winning mentality to the Africa Cup of Nations favourites. The Ivorians go head to head with Nigeria on Sunday in the billboard poster clash of the quarter-finals.
It has been well documented how the Ivorian ‘golden generation’, led by captain Didier Drogba, is facing its last throw of the Nations Cup dice — a case of now or never.
So if the 2013 title is to go back to Abidjan, the Elephants must first overcome a young, inexperienced but up-for-it Nigerian side that booked this last-eight meeting with the Group D winners by filling the runners-up spot in Group C.
Saint Etienne’s Gradel believes Lamouchi has added an ingredient to the squad that was missing 12 months ago when the team coached by Francois Zahoui lost on penalties to Zambia in the final in Libreville. “The new coach has shown us how to respect each other, that’s important.
“We’re ready to fight for one another, that’s a big difference for this Nations Cup. I hope that will help us to finally win the title,” said the former Leicester City and Leeds United player Ivory Coast took time to kick into gear in South Africa, labouring to an error-strewn 2-1 opening win over fellow quarter-finalists Togo, turning on the style to see off Tunisia 3-0 in their second game, before a near-reserve side featuring Drogba came back to draw 2-2 with Algeria.
Burkina Faso eye semis
In Port Elizabeth, Burkina Faso and Togo clash with a semi-finals place at stake.
The Stallions of Burkina Faso are making only their second quarter-finals appearance, while Togo have not reached this stage of the competition in six previous attempts.
“I have told my players it’s a big moment - maybe this chance will never come again,” said Belgium-born Burkina Faso coach Paul Put.
“It’s a big achievement to reach this stage. We have drawn mental strength from games against Nigeria and Zambia. We hope for more.” Burkina Faso reached the last eight without the tournament’s leading scorer, Alain Traore from French club Lorient, who suffered thigh injury.