Ivory Coast must defeat Morocco and their old boss Herve Renard if they are to prevent the defence of their Africa Cup of Nations title from ending at the first hurdle.
The two teams meet in Oyem on Tuesday as Group C reaches a thrilling conclusion.
Holders Ivory Coast were among the pre-tournament favourites, but consecutive draws against Togo and DR Congo have them on the brink of a shock exit.
Morocco, meanwhile, only need a point to be sure of a place in the quarter-finals after recovering from an opening defeat to DR Congo by coming from behind to defeat Togo 3-1 on Friday.
An added twist is Morocco being managed by Renard, the man who led the Elephants to AFCON glory two years ago.
Renard, who also guided Zambia to the AFCON title in 2012, left Ivory Coast to manage Lille but returned to international management after lasting only 13 games in Ligue 1.
“Sometimes, at an Africa Cup of Nations, you have to respond to setbacks and just stay solid,” Renard said of Morocco’s response in their second game.
“I remember with Ivory Coast last time, we only drew our first two matches and then went through with a 1-0 win the last group game.”
Meanwhile, Ivory Coast’s Serge Aurier – who plays for Paris Saint-Germain at club level – told reporters: “We are calm – it is those outside the squad who are more worried.
“I would like to reassure everyone. In 2015 we started like that and ended up as champions.
“We are here and we are trying to progress from one game to the next. We will do everything to try to qualify.”
DR Congo are top of the group on four points, with Morocco one behind. Ivory Coast have two points, with Togo on one – but all four teams can still go through or crash out on the final matchday.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Morocco – Aziz Bouhaddouz
Bouhaddouz scored a headed equaliser for Morocco against Togo, which started their impressive comeback.
The St Pauli forward is new to international football having only made his debut last year, but has started both games at the tournament and already emerged as an integral part of his side’s attack.
Ivory Coast – Eric Bailly
Ivory Coast have to win and a clean sheet will go a long way towards that goal.
Manchester United’s Eric Bailly is a crucial cog in the Elephants’ defence having started both matches so far and will need to show his quality in a critical game.
KEY OPTA STATS:
– Ivory Coast have qualified for the knockout stages in each of the last six editions of the tournament and last got knocked out at the group stage in 2002.
– Morocco have failed to make it out of the group stages in six of their last seven AFCON participations, the only exception coming in 2004 when they were tournament runners-up.
– Ivory Coast are hoping to become the first team to win back-to-back AFCON titles since Egypt (three-in-a-row from 2006 to 2010).
– The Elephants are unbeaten against Morocco at the AFCON (W2 D1). Their last meeting in the competition was in the 2006 group stages, with Ivory Coast winning 1-0 thanks to a Didier Drogba penalty.
– This is Herve Renard’s fifth AFCON as manager – he has only lost two of his 21 games in the competition (W9 D10 L2 – excl. penalties).
– This is also Michel Dussuyer’s fifth AFCON tournament as manager. The Ivory Coast boss has never progressed further than the quarter-finals.
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