Madagascar will be looking to maintain their 100 per cent record in Group K of the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers when they face hosts Ivory Coast at Stade Ebimpe in Abidjan on Thursday.
Kick-off is at 9pm CAT.
Madagascar head the group with a full haul of six points, having beaten Ethiopia (1-0 at home) and Niger (6-2 away) in their opening two qualifiers last November, though they suffered a 2-1 loss in their last outing, a friendly against Burkina Faso in October.
Barea’s coach Nicolas Dupuis has admitted that he was not keen on heading to Ivory Coast for Thursday, citing worries over assembling the team with different travel restrictions in place and the tense situation in the West African country regarding recent contested elections.
“I don’t want to lead my players into a trap. And I don’t want to go there either,” admitted Dupuis last week. Nonetheless, the French coach has named a strong squad which includes two newcomers (goalkeeper Mathias Randriamamy and midfielder Loic Lapoussin) as well as the return of experienced pros Arohasina ‘Dax’ Andrianarimanana and Njiva Rakotoharimalala.
The Elephants, meanwhile, come into the clash placed third on the standings, with three points after a 1-0 home win over Niger and 2-1 away loss to Ethiopia. The games against Madagascar will be new coach Patrice Beaumelle’s first competitive fixture in charge, having been appointed earlier this year and overseen a draw with Belgium and loss to Japan in friendlies last month.
Beaumelle insists that his team will not underestimate Madagascar: “It’s a team we’ve been following for a few years. The coach in place and the group have been together for a few years and have had a very good Afcon 2019.
“It’s a group of friends who have a state of mind above all. It is also a team which has quality, which is united and which is growing week after week with bi-nationals. It’s a solid group with full confidence that we will have to respect and approach in better conditions.
“We must take advantage of this first match in Abidjan to impose our style. On paper, we have a wonderful team, it will have to be translated in the field.”
Ivory Coast have won five of the six matches between the teams since the turn of the century, with the latest a 3-0 home win in a World Cup qualifier in October 2008. Barea will host the Elephants for the return game in Toamasina on Tuesday 17 November.