Cote d'Ivoire coach lays down gauntlet to Yaya Toure

The Elephants boss admitted the Manchester City star was “tired” against Guinea but wants him to step up to the plate for the Mali clash

By Brian Oliver in Malabo 

Herve Renard has challenged Yaya Toure to lift himself and his Cote d’Ivoire team, while Serge Aurier must cut out the mistakes following a disappointing start to the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations. 

A 1-1 draw with Guinea was far less than Renard expected from his charges, even if he was satisfied with a point after the dismissal of Gervinho when they trailed 1-0. Their opponents in Malabo on Saturday are a tough, physical Mali side who came close to beating Cameroon in the other Group D game, which also finished 1-1.

Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure was taken off near the end of the Elephants’ first game, in which Cote d’Ivoire improved after Renard sent on Seydou Doumbia and switched to two up front. Doumbia scored after a neat pass by his partner, Wilfied Bony – another City star who will be looking to improve on his second outing. 

“Yaya was a bit tired at the end and I felt it was best to bring him off, but he’s a big competitor and he’s ready for the Mali game,” Renard, who coached Zambia to Cup of Nations glory in 2012, said at a press conference. 

“He has a very big responsibility now. He has the armband and we expect a better performance from him. It’s very important for us that we get it, because it will be very difficult for us if he doesn’t improve.”

Renard also wants more from another Champions League player, Aurier. The Paris Saint-Germain defender performed well at the World Cup last summer but has not had a great season with his club, and was responsible for Guinea’s goal, scored by Mohamed Yattara after a deep cross from man-of-the-match Ibrahima Traore. 

“We gave the goal to Guinea,” added Renard. “It was a bad mistake by Serge Aurier. He was the best Ivorian player at the World Cup, and we expect him to be at another level for the second game. I hope he will help the other young defenders for a better all-round performance.”

Cote d’Ivoire gave competitive debuts to centre-back Eric Bailly and left-back Wilfried Kanon. While Kanon faltered under Traore’s repeated assaults, before improving in the second half, Bailly, who has just broken into the first team at Espanyol, looked impressive. He was alongside Kolo Toure, who has well over 100 caps and, in a lively finish to the game from Guinea, made three timely interceptions. 

“It’s very important to me to have somebody so experienced alongside me,” said Bailly. “[Kolo] was a big help.” 

Renard is likely to start with Doumbia in place of the suspended Gervinho, but will change formation. “There is nobody who can be a straight replacement,” he said. “There’s nobody else like Gervinho in the team, probably nobody in the whole competition.” The coach is expected to stick with the same back four and was pleased with their contribution against Guinea. 

“It’s never easy to change a defence in three or four months,” said Renard, who has only 13 of the nation’s World Cup squad in his 23. “I have brought in a new goalkeeper, a new centre-back and a new left-back. I have to prepare for the future, but we must also be strong now. It’s not easy for some of the older players in the squad but we need competition.”

The side finish their Group D programme against Cameroon on Wednesday. That game, like Saturday’s double-header in Malabo – Cote d’Ivoire vs Mali and Cameroon vs Guinea – is already sold out. 

Renard and Yaya Toure have both spoken of their keenness not just to qualify, but to win Group D so they can stay in Malabo for the quarter-finals. 

“We have the best hotel, a good stadium, plenty of support, a nice ambience,” said Renard. “We want to stay in Malabo. This group is complicated. One win for anybody will put them in a very strong position.”

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