MALABO, Feb 3 (Reuters) – Ivory Coast coach Herve Renard has praised his young defenders ahead of the African Nations Cup semi-final against Democratic Republic of Congo as he seeks to avoid a repeat of DR Congo’s upset 4-3 win during qualifying.
The manager also acknowledged that the experienced Kolo Toure was proving to be an influential player.
Ivory Coast beat Algeria 3-1 in the quarter-finals, inspired by big names Wilfried Bony, Gervinho and Yaya Toure, and they showed that their well-documented defensive problems may be behind them.
Ivory Coast have long been plagued by issues at the back and shipped four goals at home against their semi-final opponents during the Nations Cup qualifiers.
Renard recalled Toure to the side, switching to a back three and turning to two inexperienced centre backs in 20-year-old Eric Bertrand Bailly and 21-year-old Wilfried Kanon.
“They were excellent,” the coach said. “When I made a tactical change (against Algeria), I didn’t take either out. Instead I replaced Siaka Tiene, a very experienced player.
“Bailly had an enormous match, and he’s just signed for Villarreal after some superb work in December. He is mana from heaven.”
Neither young defender played a part in the qualifiers, only making their debuts in a pre-tournament friendly against Nigeria.
“There’s also Kanon, another young player. Both of them are benefiting from working alongside Kolo.
“We also have a goalkeeper (Sylvain Gbohouo) without much experience, and Serge Aurier, who’s playing in his first Nations Cup. “But thanks to Kolo, we are doing just fine.”
Ivory Coast have not kept a clean sheet in the tournament, but their victory over fancied Algeria will give them confidence for the semi-final on Wednesday in Bata.