As the TotalEnergies CAF Africa Cup of Nations 2023 kicks off, host nation Cote d’Ivoire stands poised but cautious, fully aware of the pitfalls that Guinea-Bissau could present in Saturday’s group stage opener.
The Elephants enter the tournament as heavy favorites in the Group A clash, yet the shadow of a potential giant-killing looms over the 60,000 fans expected to fill the stands in Abidjan.
Despite never having secured a win in their three previous AFCON appearances, Guinea-Bissau’s Djurtus are an unknown quantity, capable of harnessing their underdog status to surprising effect.
Cote d’Ivoire’s coach, Jean-Louis Gasset, is taking nothing for granted. “We cannot underestimate Guinea-Bissau,” he stressed. “In these types of opening games, there is always a risk the underdog is fired up to cause an upset.”
History is on Cote d’Ivoire’s side; the nation looks to replicate the resounding success of the class of 1984, who, as hosts, launched their campaign with a dominant 3-0 win over Togo in Abidjan. Yet, the specter of Guinea-Bissau’s sturdy performance in the 2017 opener, where they drew 1-1 with Gabon, serves as a reminder of the Djurtus’ capacity to defy expectations.
Guinea-Bissau’s coach, Baciro Cande, is nurturing hopes of a historic victory, declaring, “We know we can create a sensation against the hosts.” This determination sets the stage for a clash brimming with potential drama.
The Elephants are not short on talent, with European stars like Sebastian Haller, Eric Bailly, and Franck Kessie expected to lead the charge towards triumph on home soil. Their squad depth and quality justify their status as group favorites, but the true test will be managing the pressure that comes with playing in front of an expectant home crowd.
Opening matches of such prestigious tournaments often veer towards the unpredictable, and despite their underdog status, Guinea-Bissau is positioned as a potential ‘trap’ game for Cote d’Ivoire. With the eyes of the continent watching, the hosts must navigate this fixture with the right blend of respect for their opponents and confidence in their own formidable capabilities.
As the tournament begins, all eyes will be on whether Cote d’Ivoire can capitalize on their home advantage without succumbing to the intense pressure or the spirited challenge posed by Guinea-Bissau, setting the tone for what promises to be a thrilling AFCON 2023.