Makomborero Mutimukulu in MALABO, Equatorial Guinea
Cote d’Ivoire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (0) 1
Guinea . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (1) 1
THE superstars of Cote d’Ivoire battled hard, with a man short, to earn a draw against a fired-up Guinea in an African Cup of Nations Group D opener at a packed Estadio de Malabo here last night.
The Elephants had to toil hard after falling to a Mohammed Yattara strike in the 36th minute before going a man down after Gervinho was shown a straight red card for a nasty elbow on Naby Keita on 57 minutes.
Prior to the game the Guineans, who are not fancied in a group that includes heavyweights Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon and Mali, had vowed to put up a fight and they did just that, twice opening the Ivorian defence but shooting wide inside the first five minutes.
Guinea mentor Michel Dussuyer hinged his game plan on suffocating space in the midfield and his men snapped at their more fancied opponents, contesting the second ball with tenacity while seeking to go through the Ivorian central defensive pairing of Kolo Toure and Eric Bailly with some quick passing.
Skipper Yaya Toure started for Herve Renard’s team despite sitting out Saturday’s session and showing signs of being unsettled after once again hinting at a Manchester City exit in several interviews over the weekend.
Yaya, playing in a more attacking role with Cheik Tiote providing cover, had his side’s first sight at goal on seven minutes after being played on by a lively Gervinho but swift reaction from Yattara saved Guinea.
With Solomon Kalou and Gervinho providing both width, Cote d’Ivoire began to ask serious questions of the Guinean defence with Wilfred Bony testing Nabby Yattara with a snap shot on 23 minutes.
Gervinho then struck the crossbar as the Elephants sought an opener.
The opener did come on 36 minutes but it was Gbohouo, the Ivorian goalie, retrieving the ball after Yattara, the Olympique Lyon defender, sweetly connected a cross from the right.
Guinea were in the lead as the halftime whistle sounded.
Frenchman Herve Renard, the Ivorian coach who won the Nations Cup with Zambia the last time this tournament was played on these shores, then watched his half-time team talk go up in smoke after Gervinho, who was lively, being sent off for elbowing Keita.
Algerian referee Mehdi Abid Charef did the right thing, sending the former Arsenal man off.
With a man short and a game to chase Renard went for broke, pulling out Kalou and Die Serey for Seydou Doumbia and Gadji Tallo.
Doumbia repaid the faith, latching on to a fine Bony play on to beat Yabby Nattara on 70 minutes.
The CSKA Moscow striker came close two minutes later as the Ivorians, with Yaya Toure getting into his groove and Bony reveling in Doumbia company, camped in the Guinean half.
At the other end Kolo Toure did well to stifle Boubacar Fofana before Guinean captain Ibrahima Traore went on a mazy run, side stepping three defenders and beating Gbohouo with a rising shot that kissed the cross bar.
In the end the two West Africans had to settle for a draw in what is set to be a very tight group.
Cote d’Ivoire: Gbohouo, K Toure, S Kalou (S Doumbia 64th min), K Yao, W Bony, S Aurier (C Kader 64), Y Toure (T Diomande 85th min), D Serey, S Kanon
Guinea: N Yattara, M Yattara, I Sylla (A Camara 70th min), F Pobga, F Camara, I Traore, K Constant, I Conte, N Keita, B Fofana, B Sankoh