Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 24 October 2019

2019 Africa Cup of Nations: Ivory Coast and Tunisia begin their quest to be crowned kings of Africa

2015 champions Ivory Coast kick off their Group D engagements against South Africa while Tunisia face Angola in Group E

Tunisia manager Alain Giresse attends a press conference at the Suez Stadium ahead of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations match against Angola. AFP
Tunisia manager Alain Giresse attends a press conference at the Suez Stadium ahead of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations match against Angola. AFP

Ibrahima Kamars is placing his faith in Ivory Coast's young pups to help restore the West African nation's pride following their horror show in Gabon two years ago.

Ivory Coast arrived as champions but their title defence ended in disaster as they were turfed out at the group stage following draws with Togo and DR Congo and a defeat to Morocco.

The likes of Nicolas Pepe, 24, and Wilfried Zaha, 26, will carry the hopes of the country in Egypt when they get their Group D campaign under way on Monday against South Africa at Al-Salam Stadium in Cairo.

"We are building a team to match the great ones of the past and hope players like Nicolas can take us a long way in Egypt," Kamara said of Pepe, whose 22 goals goals was second only to Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe as Lille finished runners-up to the big-spending Parisians in Ligue 1 last term.

Morocco and Namibia make up the other two teams in Group D, widely considered as the toughest of the six pools at this year's Cup of Nations (Afcon).

"As much as every team wants to win its first tournament match, it is crucial not to lose because it puts you on the back foot immediately," said South Africa's English manager Stuart Baxter.

Tunisia meet Angola in Group E's opening match at 9pm (UAE) at the New Suez Stadium. It will be only the second time the two teams have met at Afcon following a stalemate when the biennial showpiece was held in Ghana in 2008.

Coached by Alain Giresse, who formed a formidable midfield quartet for France alongside Michel Platini, Jean Tigana and Luiz Fernandez in the 1980s, Tunisia are appearing at a record-extending 14th straight Afcon.

"Our first target is the quarter-finals and after that we shall see," Giresse said.

"Tunisia have been serious contenders in many Cup of Nations and my dream is take them back to the top," he added.

Angola rely on a strong team ethic but do possess a potent weapon up front in the shape of Geraldo, who was part of a miraculous run to the African Champions League semi-finals with Primeiro de Agosto before earning a move to Cairo giants Al Ahly this year.

Group E's other match sees Mali looking to put their pre-tournament woes behind them when they face Mauritania in Suez (midnight, Tuesday).

Mohamed Magassouba delayed naming his Mali squad until days after the other 23 teams had announced theirs while Fifa threatened to suspend the team from playing in Egypt following some unsavoury squabbling among members of the football association.

Defender Hamari Traore said the team must do better than previous tournaments when they failed to make it out of the group stages at the past two editions.

Mauritania, coached by Frenchman Corentin Martins, are one of three teams making their debut at the continental tournament, have never made it past the first hurdle at a Cup of Nations.

Updated: June 24, 2019 07:49 AM

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