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Elephants leave it late

NELSPRUIT, June 25- Ivory Coast fell short of their goal chase to make the last 16 at the World Cup as they beat North Korea 3-0 in their Group G match to continue the exodus of African teams here on Friday.Chasing down a seemingly impossible nine goals to nudge Portugal out of the last 16 – though it wouldn’t have made a difference in the end as the Portuguese drew with Brazil to finish a point ahead of the ‘Elephants’ – the Ivorians’ goals dried up in the second half against a massed North Korean red wall of defenders.

Ivory Coast joined hosts South Africa, Cameroon, Nigeria and Algeria as first-round casualties with only Ghana carrying on the African cause in the knockout round.

The Ivorians scored twice in the opening half, raising some hopes that they might set sail after the imposing target, but as the smoke drifted in from fires on the surrounding low veld, so did Sven-Goran Eriksson’s team lose their way.

Only Chelsea’s Salomon Kalou, a second half substitute, found the net in the 82nd minute, tucking away a high ball from defender Arthur Boka.

The Elephants made a good fist of a vibrant opening half with strikes by Yaya Toure and Romaric among 10 Ivorian shots on target.

Ivory Coast were looking for a mammoth win over the North Koreans, like Portugal’s last start 7-0 rout, and relying on group leaders Brazil to beat the Portuguese in Durban for them to have an outside prospect of reaching the knockout round.

Barcelona playmaker Yaya Toure struck first in the 14th minute, drilling home from outside the area off a cut-back from Kader Keita.

The Elephants went two-up on 20 minutes after Chelsea superstar Didier Drogba rattled the crossbar with a fierce volley and left midfielder Romaric with an easy header into an unguarded net.

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Drogba, in imperious form, headed the ball into the net in the 12th minute but was ruled offside as Ivory Coast bombarded the North Korean goal.

The Ivorians’ play fell away in the second half as the North Koreans tightened their five-man defence screened by three midfielders.

Eriksson made a double substitution in the 64th minute bringing on Kalou for Keita and Aruna Dindane for Gervinho as he juggled his attack to prise more goals and Kalou dutifully answered the Swedish coach’s call.

North Korea’s Japanese-based striker Jong Tae-Se didn’t look out of place with the skilful Ivorians and he tested their defence with speed and close control several times.

Jong had a great chance in the 81st minute and only a diving block from Manchester City defender Kolo Toure – brother of Yaya – stopped him from scoring.

The match was played in clean spirits with Spanish referee Alberto Undiano not once brandishing the yellow card.

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