Didier Drogba’s talismanic qualities helped Ivory Coast make a winning, if not impressive, start to the Africa Cup of Nations finals as he scored the only goal against a stubborn Sudan, while Angola beat Burkina Faso 2-1 in Sunday’s other match in Malabo.
Drogba extended his scoring streak at the Cup of Nations to a fourth successive tournament as he took his overall tally to eight, with a 38th-minute header to leave Sudan empty-handed.
Ivory Coast, heavily favored to take the continental title at the tournament co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, share the early lead in Group B.
The Chelsea player was quick to admit the nature of Ivory Coast’s triumph against a side ranked more than 100 places below them was anything but impressive.
“I’m just very happy we got the points,” said the 33-year-old, whose role in Ivory Coast’s failure in the three previous tournaments to live up to their favorites tag has been extensively highlighted in the buildup to the latest edition. “We did some things well and some things not so well, but the main thing was that we won the match.”
The goal was a trademark Drogba effort, timing his run and jump perfectly to deliver a forceful header from close range from a cross by Chelsea teammate Salomon Kalou.
Gervinho might have scored a second after the break after a slip by Sudan goalkeeper Mahjoub El Moez, who recovered in time to prevent the ball crossing the line.
Sudan proved anything but overawed and only the faintest of touches by Ivory Coast goalkeeper Boubacar Barry prevented Mudather Tayeb from equalizing just minutes after Drogba’s opener.
Sudan will feel they still have a chance to advance to the last eight, even though they have not won a match at the tournament since 1970.
They would likely need to win against both Angola and Burkina Faso, who shared three goals in a lively second half after an opening 45 minutes of aimless running.
Defensive slips cost Burkina Faso dear, allowing first Mateus to score and then former Manchester United striker Manucho to grab the winner.
In between, Alain Traore, only passed fit on the eve of the match, netted a stunning, but ultimately fruitless, long-range free-kick for Burkina Faso.
Malabo’s Estadio Nuevo, which has a 16,000 capacity, was far from full, reflecting high ticket prices for the event.