Slow start as the Elephants fail to get out of gear

Wilfried Zaha (No. 9) could not break the deadlock as the Ivory Coast were held to a goalless stalemate by Togo.
Wilfried Zaha (No. 9) could not break the deadlock as the Ivory Coast were held to a goalless stalemate by Togo.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

OYEM (Gabon) • Morocco and defending champions Ivory Coast, on Monday, became just the latest strongly-fancied teams to fail to deliver at the Africa Cup of Nations.

The Elephants drew 0-0 with Togo in a match that produced little excitement for a small crowd in Oyem, Gabon.

"It is not the start that we would have liked," said Ivory Coast coach Michel Dussuyer. "We could not raise our level of play. We expect more from ourselves."

Morocco, also considered potential champions under coach Herve Renard, fell 1-0 to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

DR Congo, coached by Florent Ibenge, surprisingly top Group C after the first round of matches, with three points.

Ivory Coast and Togo have a point each and Morocco are pointless. Only the group winners and runners-up will advance to the quarter-finals.

The results followed a string of other unexpected scorelines in the biennial showcase, which kicked off on Saturday.

Guinea-Bissau and Burkina Faso earned unexpected draws with Gabon and Cameroon respectively in Group A on the opening day. Minnows Zimbabwe drew 2-2 with star-studded Algeria in Group B.

Gabon star man Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang vowed to put their poor start behind them and beat Burkina Faso today.

"I remain positive that we can reach our first goal, which is qualifying for the knockout phase," said the top Bundesliga scorer this season with 16 goals from 15 games.

Cameroon will face Guinea-Bissau in the other Africa Cup of Nations match today.

Fifa have warned Liverpool on Monday they cannot play defender Joel Matip unless Cameroon give the Premier League club permission, but The Telegraph reported that the Reds are still considering fielding the defender in their FA Cup third-round replay against Plymouth Argyle tonight.

Matip missed Liverpool's 1-1 draw with Manchester United on Sunday amid a disagreement over his international status and he could be unavailable for the next month if Cameroon refuse to give him permission to play.

Matip last year announced he no longer wished to be considered for selection by Cameroon and was not named in their Africa Cup of Nations squad, he was still listed in a preliminary squad list.

Fifa rules state that "a player who has been called up by his association for one of its representative teams is, unless otherwise agreed, not entitled to play for his club during the period for which he has been released, plus an additional period of five days".

A Fifa official also warned: "Fifa also indicated that any potential violation of the relevant rules would be the subject of an investigation by its disciplinary commission."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2017, with the headline 'Slow start as the Elephants fail to get out of gear'. Print Edition | Subscribe