By Beng Emmanuel
Ivory Coast produced a polished first half display to narrowly edged an unlucky Equatorial Guinea side 1-0 at the Douala Japoma Stadium in their first game of 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.
The two-time champions started their campaign knowing that a win would take them to the top of their group after Sierra Leone claimed a famous goalless draw against defending champions Algeria on Tuesday.
Sivasspor winger Max-Alain Gradel got his team off to a flying start with an early opening goal on 5th minute. The 34-yearold pounced on a loose ball from the edge of the area and fired past Manuel Sapunga to the top corner. But the Elephants failed to build on their first half dominance and second half chances to cause more damage.
Their inabilities to score more goals rather fueled Equatorial Guinea to stream forward and exploit their defensive frailties. Although they conjured the sort of clear-cut chances needed to drastically change the tables around, they were particularly poor in their finishes.
The Nzalang Nacional never eased up in the second half but the problems persisted. The absence of confidence, general hesitancy to score and the lack of a third pass. They had several chances to get back into the game and are culpable of their own defeat. Cote D’Ivoire also ran out of luck.
They may have won the game but were severely lacking upfront and brutally exposed at the back. It was also a bad day for some stellar names in the squad who had little influence in the game.
AC Milan star Franck Kessie was far from his usual best in the midfield. Sebastien Haller who is currently top goal scorer of the UEFA Champions League had a bad day in office with no shot on target. Nicolas Pepe and Wilfried Zaha both came in late in the same and attempted to provide the drama in the closing stages.
Nevertheless, it is great start for the Patrice Beaumelle who was deprived of his first choice keeper Sylvain Gbohouo. Cote D’voire’s face Sierra Leone in their next game. Despite the defeat, Equatorial Guinea still has chances to progress to the next round of the tournament. They take on Algeria in their second outing.
Equatorial Guinea 0-1 Cote D’ivoire
[Max-Alain Gradel 5′]