EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW! Yaya Touré's guide to the Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals

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As Côte d’Ivoire prepare to face Mali, the African player of the year talks exclusively to PUMA Football about not making mistakes, the threat posed by former Barcelona team-mate Seydou Keita and the prospect of meeting Ghana in the final.

Côte d’Ivoire have won four matches out of four and are yet to concede at the Africa Cup of Nations. You must be in confident mood?

We feel very good. We are aware of our strengths and our potential. The team is improving with every match so we’re going in to the semi-final in confident mood. But we know that we have a very good team that can beat Mali.

The Elephants will be the big favourites to beat a Mali side that has already exceeded expectations. Is there a danger of being overconfident? 

I don’t think we will be big favourites. I think Mali have a great chance as well. They’re a very strong team and there is no way we will underestimate them. They got a fantastic result in the quarter-finals, beating the co-hosts in front of their fans. Don’t forget, Gabon had won all their matches, they are really good going forward, but they could only score one goal against Mali. 

Did you watch the game between Mali and Gabon?
Of course I did. I was really impressed by Mali’s organisation. They defend well and have some quick players in attack too. They’re a very dangerous opponent. But when you play in the semi-final of a competition like this you know you will have a hard match. All four semi-finalists are strong. They all deserve to be there. So it’s up to us to do everything in our power to qualify. 

One of Mali’s key men is your former Barcelona team-mate Seydou Keita. Are you looking forward to your midfield battle with him?
He was my colleague and also my friend at Barcelona. Seydou’s a really good player and a very humble person. He is someone who has remained simple and has a good character. On the pitch, he plays the game the right way. So yes, I’m looking forward to crossing paths with him. It’s going to be a super contest. But he isn’t their only good player. We need to be careful of Modibo Maiga in attack. They have a lot of fast, young players. 

How important will it be to cut off the link between Keita and the forwards? 

I don’t think we should focus too much on one particular player. With the national team, we always try to focus on our own game and try to impose our style on the match. That’s what we will try to do in this semi-final: play our best football and give absolutely everything to win the game. 

Côte d’Ivoire have suffered painful defeats in the latter stages of recent CANs. What is the mood like in the dressing room compared to past years? 

I think the team spirit and the level of concentration in the dressing room is the same this year as in past campaigns. The difference is that we have more experience now. We’ve missed out in the quarter-finals and the semi-finals before, but we’ve learned from those experiences. We won’t make the same mistakes again. We will need to be intelligent, maybe show some patience, then be ruthless when we get an opportunity to score. 

Egypt and Algeria have knocked you out in the past. Are you relieved there are no North African teams left following Tunisia’s defeat to Ghana? 

It is very interesting to see the way football is developing in Africa. Egypt and Algeria didn’t qualify for these finals, Ghana have knocked out Tunisia, and Gabon were able to beat both Morocco and Tunisia in the group stage. Why has it been harder for the North African teams this year? I think it is because there are many good teams now. Gabon showed they have strength and skill but they also showed great tactical ability. Maybe teams like Egypt played in a more clever way than their opponents before, but the others have caught up now and they’re being cannier. 

Most people expect a Côte d’Ivoire vs Ghana final. Do Zambia and Mali have a chance? 

Most people are wrong! You can’t say that Zambia and Mali don’t have a chance. I have talked about Mali already – Zambia have shown they are a great team. They have been magnificent so far! Their players might not be so well known, but they really play as a team. They have a great collective style with some very skilful and pacy attackers. I think anybody ruling Zambia out hasn’t seen them play. 

You were man of the match in the quarter-final, making one goal for Didier Drogba and scoring yourself with a brilliant free kick. You seem to have taken your Manchester City form with you to Africa. 

If I have played well it’s because my friends have played well and supported me on the pitch. We’ve been really solid, keeping four clean sheets, and we look dangerous going forward. Of course Didier is there, and he’s playing well, but the other guys like Salomon Kalou, Gervinho and Max Gradel are contributing too. I try to do my bit but if we are going to win this competition we need everyone to play well.

With Côte d’Ivoire and Manchester City on course for silverware, are you starting to think 2012 could be a great year for Yaya Touré? 

I hope so. The CAN and the Premier League are my two objectives. We’re still top in England and everything is going well so far here. Let’s hope the good results continue. 

Manchester City have been missing you and have had some poor results since you left. How are you dealing with being so far away?

I’ve been really stressed. It’s not easy to leave your friends at an important time, when there are big games against Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham. These games give you goosebumps. I have been nervous watching them. But the good news is we got a good win against Fulham and we’re still top. I just want to make sure that’s the case at the end of the season. I have confidence on the boys because we have so many great players who can win matches like Silva, Nasri, Aguero and even Balotelli. We have our destiny in our own hands so we have to believe.

 

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