After impressively seeing of Nigeria in their opening game on Monday, the Elephants know that another three points in the first Group B game tonight will almost certainly put them into the knockout stage of the tournament.
Chelsea striker Salomon Kalou was the hero in the first match, dribbling his way through the Super Eagles’ defence to hit home a second-half winner.
His club teammate and international captain Didier Drogba, who was largely anonymous in his first competitive start in almost two months, has warned his colleagues not to discount the Squirrels.
“We respect every team in this group. It is the media who talk only of Nigeria and Ivory Coast in this group. We are fully aware we are not allowed to fail.'”
Drogba knows that the opening win was vital to kick-start their competition.
“It is an important victory because we won against our main rival for top spot in the group. Nigeria were the most dangerous team and I think the most important thing has been done.”
Stand-in coach Gerard Gili added: “Our tournament has started in the best possible way but now we have to be as professional as we’ve been when we prepare for the other games.”
Benin have had an interrupted build-up to the game following a row between coach Reinhard Fabisch and midfielder Mouri Ogunbiyi, who the German said had “lacked respect towards his teammates and the fans” by breaking squad rules.
Intervention by the Benin Football Federation has since seen Ogunbiyi rejoin the squad as both parties were forced to put any rifts aside ahead of the clash.
Seidath Tchomogo is the only injury concern for Fabisch, while the Ivorians have a full-strength squad for the game
Nigeria will face Mali in the second game today knowing that three points are a must if they are to keep alive their hopes of reaching the last eight of the African Nations Cup.
Berti Vogts’ team lost out to Ivory Coast in their opening match on Monday thanks to some sloppy defending, and the pressure is on the coach to deliver in a game that could decide the outcome of Group B.
The German boss has come in for criticism from many Nigeria fans and failure to gain all three points could cost him his job.
Vogts himself admits the stakes are high, saying: “Pressure? Of course, there is pressure. We will have to play much better football against Mali.
“We lost against the best team in Africa; Ivory Coast. But we will be back.”
Ivorian striker Didier Drogba agrees with Vogts and has warned Mali of a possible backlash.
“Nigeria and Ivory Coast are strong. We punished the Super Eagles for their errors. They are a good side. The way they played and passed the ball was unique. They can still qualify from this group,” Drogba adds.
The one positive for Vogts is that he has no injuries to contend with after news that Kanu will be fit in time for the game.
Mali coach Jean-Francois Jodar is also aware of the importance of the game if his side, who beat Benin 1-0 in their opener, are to have any chance of progression.
“Playing against Nigeria is going to be a tough test. We were a bit stressed against Benin but that is normal in the first game of the competition.
“Nigeria is a dangerous team. They are wounded after their loss to the Elephants, but I want to assure you that the match will be tight between two teams who want to win,” added Jodar, who also has no injuries to report.