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AFCON: Ibrahim Sangaré tipped to push Côte d’Ivoire to victory

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This article is part of the dossier:

Africa Cup of Nations kicks off in Cameroon

By Taimour Lay

Posted on January 26, 2022 06:11

Africa Cup of Nations – Group E – Ivory Coast v Algeria
Soccer Football – Africa Cup of Nations – Group E – Ivory Coast v Algeria – Stade de Japoma, Douala, Cameroon – January 20, 2022 Algeria’s Youcef Belaili in action with Ivory Coast’s Jean Michael Seri and Ibrahim Sangare REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani

With Ghana, Algeria and Nigeria all out of the tournament, and Senegal having stuttered unconvincingly in the group phase, Côte D’Ivoire seemed to be the most balanced of the bigger teams initially tipped to succeed. Much of that has to do with the midfield mix offered by Franck Kessie, Jean Michael Seri and – the least experienced of the trio – Ibrahim Sangaré.

The 24-year-old midfielder offers physicality in his defensive cover and an attacking threat in coach Patrice Beaumelle’s favoured 4-3-3. That unique combination of power and finesse, grit and ambition, allied to his 6ft 3in height and dribbling ability, has placed him at the heart of the Côte d’Ivoire team after an excellent performance this season for his club PSV Eindhoven.

Sangaré’s thumping header in the 3-1 win over Algeria last Thursday at the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) was an emphatic reminder of his qualities in the opposition box. He also set up Nicolas Pepe’s finish in the 2-2 draw with Sierra Leone, opening up his body to play a perfectly weighted first-time pass.

Going in the other direction, he has a lot of responsibility to drop into the right-back zone when needed. On the much-criticised Douala pitch, which cut up badly, Sangaré’s consistency came to the fore.

Ligue 1 fans will not be surprised. Sangaré was picked out at 18 for a move to France and excelled in 2017/2018 as Toulouse successfully avoided relegation before his transfer to the Netherlands in 2020. He is now being tipped for the English Premier League. “I don’t want it to go to his head too much,” said his former manager at Toulouse, Alain Casanova, “but he is one of the best I’ve seen.”

Les Elephants can feel a little aggrieved at having topped Group E only to be rewarded with a difficult Group 16 opponent in the form of Egypt. Côte d’Ivoire remains narrow favourites to advance, but vulnerabilities may reemerge. For all the recent progress, the team came into AFCON on the back of a failed World Cup qualification campaign, losing to Cameroon in November.

Although he has only made 20 appearances for his country, Sangaré also knows the pain of AFCON defeat, having started in the quarter final penalty shoot-out loss to Algeria in 2019. While the formidable attacking threat provided by Wilfried Zaha, Nicolas Pepe and Sébastien Haller may attract the headlines, there will be a man behind them looking to drive his country to victory.

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