Africa Cup of Nations play continues on Saturday in Group D with a pair of matches featuring countries in the same position. The Ivory Coast and Tunisia, which both won their openers, face off while Algeria and Togo both look to get back in the race to the knockout rounds.
Although the tournament has featured a few clunkers, the overall competitiveness makes for plenty of intrigue moving forward. That starts today with the favored Ivory Coast looking to secure a spot in the quarterfinals.
Let's examine both matches on tap for Day 8. It's an important day for all four countries, and the results will be heavily dependent on which sides handle the pressure best.
Ivory Coast vs. Tunisia
Yaya Toure was terrific for the Ivory Coast in the opener. The Manchester City midfielder gave the Elephants a lead in the eighth minute and helped generate several other chances throughout the match. They need him to play at that level for the entire tournament.
But it was Gervinho who played the role of hero, scoring just inside of full time to secure a 2-1 victory and give the Elephants a little breathing room in the group. They have enough pressure on their shoulders to begin with. They don't want to face a battle just to advance.
In order to avoid that, they need to beat a Tunisia side that will be riding a wave of momentum after getting a late winner of its own against Algeria. Youssef Msakni found the net in stoppage time to earn all three points for his side in an otherwise lackluster affair.
Tunisia will need to improve their level of play in order to keep pace with the Ivory Coast. But it's hard to imagine the Elephants letting a golden opportunity to advance slip away. Expect an inspired performance and victory for the star-studded side.
Prediction: 2-1 Ivory Coast
Algeria vs. Togo
Fans can expect a back-and-forth encounter between Algeria and Togo. Both countries know a victory is necessary to get back in the Group D mix, which leads to more wide open play than the tournament has featured in the early going.
Algeria was held off the score sheet in their opener against Tunisia. The Fennec Foxes created a couple of good scoring opportunities, including one from Islam Slimani that struck the crossbar, but must find the back of the net on Saturday.
It will be interesting to see how much confidence Togo built up by remaining close with the Ivory Coast, or if it was all washed away by allowing the late winner. The combination of Emmanuel Adebayor and Jonathan Ayite make the Sparrow Hawks dangerous.
All told, it should be a close match throughout. Algeria is a slightly more complete team and that should give them the edge, but only if the back line steps up against the aforementioned Togo attackers. These are the type of matches that make the event special because so much is on the line.
Prediction: 1-0 Algeria