Mistake-strewn Ivory Coast labored to an opening win over Togo, while Tunisia’s artful midfielder Youssef Msakni struck late to deny Algeria in the Africa Cup of Nations on Tuesday.
Didier Drogba’s Ivory Coast, favorites to finally land the continental showcase, were on course for a surprise draw after Jonathan Ayite canceled out Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure’s opener, but another of the Elephants’ Premier League stars, Gervinho, struck with two minutes left to seal all three points for Sabri Lamouchi’s side and put them top of Group D.
Togo had a second-half goal disallowed by the referee for taking a free-kick too quickly and that incensed Togo coach Didier Six to such a degree he stormed out of the post-match press conference claiming “the rules weren’t respected.”
Lamouchi, meanwhile, lamented an error-riddled display by his players.
“I was expecting something better from us — it wasn’t our best performance,” Lamouchi said. “I thought the first match was going to be difficult, but it was much harder than I was envisaging. I’m happy with the win, but we made too many mistakes and will have to use this game as a lesson.”
Drogba had a quiet start to his last Cup of Nations and the former Chelsea striker, now based in China, was taken off with quarter of an hour to go.
“It was a tough game, we expected that because Togo are a good side, but we made a lot of mistakes,” last season’s UEFA Champions League winner said.
While Togo, back at the tournament after the deadly Cabinda attack before the 2010 Cup of Nations in Angola, may have come away with nothing, the team led by Tottenham Hotspur striker Emmanuel Adebayor covered themselves in glory, while Ayite succeeded in accomplishing something that no player achieved at last year’s competition, namely scoring against Ivory Coast — it was the first goalkeeper Boubacar Barry had conceded in 613 minutes of Cup of Nations action.
Tunisia and Algeria were next up at Rustenburg’s Royal Bafokeng Stadium for one of the headline ties of the opening round, but it disappointed as a spectacle and was heading toward a scrappy goalless draw until the 90th minute.
Tunisia’s young midfield magician Msakni then struck a right-foot curling shot into the net to settle the outcome in spectacular fashion.
His new Lakhouya club employers back in Qatar must have been rubbing their hands with satisfaction at the exploits of their new signing.
“My team largely dominated, but I told them Msakni could cause trouble with his right foot and we were a little naive at the moment that decided the game,” Algeria coach Vahid Halilhodzic said.
For Tunisia coach Sami Trabelsi it was a major boost in his bid to make it to the knockout stages.
“You have to be really patient in a match like that as they are often decided at the last minute,” Trabelsi said.
Off the pitch, the competition organizers fined Ethiopia US$10,000, with half suspended, as punishment after their fans pelted the pitch with vuvuzelas and other objects during Monday’s game against reigning champions Zambia in Nelspruit.