RUSTENBURG, South Africa, January 31- A virtual second-string Ivory Coast side scored twice inside four minutes to snatch a 2-2 draw with Algeria Wednesday in a “dead” Africa Cup of Nations Group D game.
Didier Drogba and Wilfried Bony struck for the title favourites after Sofiane Feghouli and El Arbi Hilal Soudani had put the Desert Foxes two goals ahead with 20 minutes left.
When the competition draw was made last October, this fixture stood out as a highlight of the 24 in the first round, but when the teams walked on to the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace pitch only pride was at stake.
Victories over Togo and Tunisia clinched top spot for Ivory Coast four days ago while losses to the same countries had eliminated Algeria, who are ranked second in Africa behind the Ivorians.
“I am proud of my boys because they refused to give up when two goals behind,” said Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi. “I congratulate Algeria, who did not make it easy for us and are a team to watch in the future.
“The failure of all the north African teams to make the next round surprises me. I am most disappointed about the departure of Tunisia, which is where my family originates from.”
Algeria coach Vahid Halilhodzic said: “I told my players during training to give me a win and they almost did it. Unfortunately, we could not hold out against a more experienced team.
“I cannot blame Ryad Boudebouz for missing the first-half penalty — he did not do it on purpose. We are still in the building phase and need about two years to perfect this young team.”
France-born Lamouchi continued his rotation policy, making nine changes from the line-up that started in an impressive 3-0 victory over Tunisia last Saturday.
Midfielder Koffi ‘Romaric’ N’Dri and striker Salomon Kalou were the only survivors and those recalled included captain Drogba and Manchester City centre-back Kolo Toure.
Halilhodzic resisted wholesale changes despite the losses to Tunisia and Togo eliminating his team. He called up Khaled Lemmouchia and Boudebouz in place of Foued Kadir and Feghouli.
Boudebouz had the best chance to break the deadlock in a dull, goalless first half, but struck a seventh-minute penalty against the right post and it rebounded to safety.
It was a dubious spot kick on two counts, with Soudani going down far too easily after a slight touch from Ismael Traore, and the foul appeared to have been committed ouside the box.
Kalou had a chance when a long ball fell into his path off the back of Drogba, but he blazed over, and Drogba was guilty of equally poor finishing close to half-time with a left-foot shot.
There was little to excite the crowd in the second half, either, until Algeria were awarded a second penalty when Arthur Boka handled and substitute Feghouli made no mistake from the spot on 64 minutes.
Algeria doubled their lead six minutes later as Feghouli crossed from the right and Soudani climbed to nod the ball powerfully past slow-reacting goalkeeper Daniel Yeboah.
Ivory Coast finally awoke from their slumber to score twice within four minutes through Drogba and Wilfried Bony and bring the teams level 10 minutes from time.
A glancing header from soaring Drogba flew past Rais Mbolhi and a shot from Bony took a wicked deflection off Djamel Mesbah to give the Algerian goalkeeper no chance.