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23 Jan 2012 08:31
Côte d’Ivoire began its quest for a second African Cup of Nations (Afcon) title with a jittery 1-0 victory over Sudan and Angola also won in Group B by beating Burkina Faso 2-1 on Sunday.
Côte d’Ivoire striker Didier Drogba scored with a powerful header in the 39th minute but Sudan refused to be cowed and gave the pre-tournament favourite some nervous moments in the second half.
Angola’s victory at the Nuevo Estadio de Malabo came after Mateus Da Costa scored the opener in the 48th minute and former Manchester United forward Manucho hit the second in the 68th. In between, Alain Traore curled in a free kick for Burkina Faso.
Matches continue on Monday, with co-host Gabon playing Niger and North African rivals Morocco and Tunisia clashing in Group C.
It’s been 20 years since Côte d’Ivoire’s first African Cup triumph and many believe this tournament is the nation’s best chance of repeating the feat.
With traditional regional heavyweights like Egypt, Nigeria and Cameroon failing to qualify, Côte d’Ivoire’s highly paid, European-based stars are the standout side.
Against Sudan, the second-lowest ranked team in the tournament, Côte d’Ivoire dominated possession without ever hitting top gear.
Gervinho was the main culprit for making his team’s evening more worrisome than necessary, missing with a glut of scoring chances.
The Arsenal forward had already shot too high and headed over by the time Drogba gave him a chance to redeem himself in the 37th minute, but the shot ballooned off-target.
Drogba finally put Côte d’Ivoire ahead with a solid header from Chelsea teammate Salomon Kalou’s cross two minutes later.
Sudan rallied and could have scored a shock equaliser just before half time, but Côte d’Ivoire goalkeeper Boubacar Barry’s fingertip ensured Mudathir El-Taieb’s shot struck the crossbar.
That turned out to be the closest Sudan came to punishing Côte d’Ivoire for its missed opportunities.
Côte d’Ivoire continued to rack up chances in the second half—Gervinho’s shot was gathered at the second attempt by goalkeeper Mahjoub El-Moez, substitute Max Gradel dragged a shot wide and Drogba volleyed over with the goal gaping.
Considering the surprises on the opening day of the tournament, when Zambia beat Senegal 2-1 and co-host Equatorial Guinea had a stunning 1-0 win against Libya, Africa’s top-ranked team will be happy to have avoided conceding an equaliser.
Angola moved into prime position alongside Côte d’Ivoire atop the Group B standings after a 2-1 win against Burkina Faso.
Both of Angola’s goals were the product of defensive lapses.
An indecisive clearance by Burkina Faso’s Bakary Kone presented Da Costa with the chance to open the scoring just after half time and Djakaridja Kone gave the ball away to allow Manucho to thump the winning goal in the 68th.
Alain Traore curled a free kick over the wall and into the bottom corner to equalise between those strikes.—Sapa-AP
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