- Associated Press - Friday, January 23, 2015

MALABO, Equatorial Guinea (AP) - With Yaya Toure feeling tired and Gervinho suspended, Ivory Coast is still looking to show its best at the African Cup of Nations.

The Ivorians have been one of the best teams on the continent for about a decade, but have twice lost in the African Cup final on penalties - to Egypt in 2006 and to Zambia in 2012.

This year, the team was put into a difficult group with Cameroon, Mali and Guinea. And in the opening match, the Ivorians were held to a surprising 1-1 by Guinea, with Toure coming off late in the second half.

“Yaya Toure was a bit tired at the end of the game, so it was better for him to (go) out,” Ivory Coast coach Herve Renard said Friday. “I expect from him a better second game than the first one he did. This is very important for us. If he’s not to improve his level, it will be very difficult for our team.”

Ivory Coast will next play Mali on Saturday at Malabo Stadium in Group D, while Cameroon will face Guinea in the second match.

Toure essentially sat out the team’s first two practices in Equatorial Guinea because of fatigue after playing through the holiday season in England with Manchester City. But he was on the field at the start against Guinea in his usual central role.

“He’s a big competitor, so he will be ready for the second game,” said Renard, who led Zambia to the African Cup title in 2012.

One player who certainly won’t be on the field against Mali, or even against Cameroon in the final group match next week, is Gervinho. He was given a two-match suspension after getting a straight red card in the second half against Guinea.

Renard dodged questions about how he will cope against Mali without one of his star players up front.

“We can’t replace a player like Gervinho because there is only one Gervinho in Ivory Coast, and maybe in the competition,” Renard said. “But we have a lot of talent. … The one who will play to replace Gervinho will do a good game.”

For Guinea, the draw against one of the tournament favorites brought some positive news to a country deeply affected by the Ebola outbreak.

“We are not here to send a message or to show anything to anyone,” Guinea midfielder Ibrahima Traore said. “We are here to play, to qualify for the second round, and to give joy and happiness to the people who are struggling in Guinea.”

Cameroon is the other favorite to reach the quarterfinals from Group D, but the four-time champion was also held to 1-1 in its opening match, by Mali.

Ambroise Oyongo scored in the 84th minute to earn Cameroon a point.

“You have to respect the fact we only drew,” Cameroon coach Volker Finke said, “but the second-half performance was not bad at all.”

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