Pride at stake as slick Pepe leads charge against Bafana
Cairo - Ivory Coast coach Ibrahima Kamars sees Nicolas Pepe as one of the young stars who can banish the memories of a disastrous Africa Cup of Nations title defence two years ago.
The 2015 champions were held by Togo and the Democratic Republic of Congo and lost against Morocco to make an undignified exit from Gabon after the first round.
Kamara hopes Pepe, the 22-goal, second-highest French Ligue 1 scorer last season behind superstar Kylian Mbappe, can ensure there is no repeat of that debacle in Egypt.
"We are building a team to match the great ones of the past and hope players such as Nicolas can take us a long way in Egypt," said Kamara.
Ivory Coast are in Group D with South Africa, who they face in Cairo today, Morocco and Namibia, a section widely regarded as the toughest of the six to qualify from.
While Ivory Coast have a potential match-winner in Pepe from Ligue 1 runners-up Lille, South Africa hope Percy Tau can rise to the occasion after a season in the Belgian second division.
The slightly built attacker was signed by Premier League outfit Brighton last season, lent to Royale Union Saint-Gilloise in Belgium, and his brace against Libya ensured qualification for Egypt.
This is another match that brings together teams for only the second time in the Cup of Nations, with a goalless draw 11 years ago in Ghana ensuring both of quarter-finals places.
Elsewhere, it will be a record-extending 14th straight appearance at the tournament for Tunisia, who failed to go beyond the group stage only four times.
"Our first target is the quarterfinals and after that we shall see," said cautious Tunisia coach and 1980s France star Alain Giresse.
"Tunisia have been serious contenders in many Cup of Nations and my dream is to take them back to the top," he said.
Long-time pushovers Mauritania have improved steadily under French coach Corentin Martins, whose aim in Egypt is simply to "be competitive and achieve some victories".
Today: Ivory Coast play Bafana Bafana at 4.30pm. Tunisa v Angola, 7pm and Mali v Mauritania, 10pm
Tomorrow: Cameroon v Guinea-Bissau, 7pm and Ghana v Benin, 10pm.
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