There are no play-offs in Africa this time around but in essence that is exactly what this game is. 90 minutes of football in Abidjan will determine whether it is Ivory Coast or Morocco who wins this group and progresses to Russia next summer. The visitors are the underdogs but they only need a point to qualify for their first World Cup since 1998 and they look capable of getting it.
This isn’t a golden era for Ivory Coast, who have struggled to replace the likes of Didier Drogba and the Toure brothers. They still have some good players but they are short on genuine stars and they’ve been very unconvincing over the past year or so.
A group stage exit at the African Cup of Nations signalled their fall from grace earlier in the year and it was Morocco who knocked them out of that competition with a 1-0 win. It’s now just 3 wins from 12 matches for Ivory Coast and they were surprisingly beaten 2-1 by Gabon in their last home qualifier.
They will have to be positive here given a draw is no good to them but to make it to Russia they will have to do something no side in this group has done, and that is to score against Morocco. The North Africans have kept five straight clean sheets in this group and they’ve displayed at times that they do offer a threat at the other end. They beat Mali 6-0 in September and were impressive 3-1 friendly winners against South Korea last month.
Striker Khalid Boutaïb has been in fine form for them with a hat-trick in their most recent qualifier against Gabon to move onto 6 goals from 13 internationals. Backing Boutaïb to score anytime could be worth a punt here.
Ivory Coast will have to be adventurous, so Morocco should have chances on the break but won’t take any unnecessary risks given they only need a point. 9 of Morocco’s last 14 away World Cup qualifiers have ended in draws and with Ivory Coast looking unconvincing, backing the Draw could be worth a bet here.