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Drogba’s Elephants, Angola, off Cup mark

LIBREVILLE, Gabon, January 23rd – Normal order was restored on day two of the Africa Cup of Nations after the opening day upsets, with Ivory Coast and Angola putting points on the board.

Captain Didier Drogba eased Ivorian nerves with the only goal of the game against a Sudan side whose gutsy performance belied their lowly FIFA ranking 102 points below the Cup favourites.

That tense encounter was followed by Angola’s explosive 2-1 defeat of Burkina Faso, with former Manchester United striker Manucho grabbing the winner.

Burkina Faso coach Charles Kabore afterwards accused the winners of unsportsmanlike behaviour.

“I’m not in the habit of slagging off the opposition but they played for time at the end and that, that’s not fair-play,” he said.

“Now we have to win or draw our next match…we can still pick up six points. I’ll tell the players that everything is still possible.”

After Zambia had seen off the better fancied Senegal and co-hosts and competition newcomers Equatorial Guinea’s defeat of Libya the stage was set Sunday for more upsets.

And Sudan certainly played their part as they harried and contained Ivory Coast’s star-studded side in the first leg of this Group B double bill in Malabo.

But Drogba muzzled the Nile Crocodiles when he rose to head in a superb cross from his Chelsea club team-mate Salomon Kalou six minutes before the interval.

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He struck a relieved figure afterwards, saying: “Overall it’s a decent start. We displayed positive things and other things less good, but the most important aspect for us was to get off to a winning start.”

The Ivorians, while relieved to escape with three points, looked far from potential champions and will have to improve markedly if they are to fulfil their massive potential and shed their unwanted reputation as chokers.

That moniker has been attached to them after they lost the 2006 final to hosts Egypt, who stopped them again in the semi-finals in 2008, while in 2010 they were stunned by hosts Angola in the quarter-finals.

Francois Zahoui, the winning coach, commented: “We are always waiting for the Ivory Coast to produce fireworks but our aim is to win the Cup.

“We’ll go step by step, there are areas to improve in terms of the substance but it was a positive beginning. Mentally this win will relieve some of the pressure.”

Sudan’s coach Mohamed Abdalla commented: “I think overall it’s a positive sign for the next match.”

Angola went top of the group on goal difference after Manucho’s 68th-minute goal earned the 2010 Cup hosts the important win after Burkina Faso’s Alain Traore had cancelled out the opener from Mateus.

Manucho’s shot from outside the area after outfoxing Burkina Faso defender Bakary Kone, would have brought a smile to the face of his former Old Trafford boss Sir Alex Ferguson.

Angola coach Paulo Duarte commented: “We’ve got a fantastic squad with really hardworking players.

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“We’ll take each game as it comes, we’re not going to get ahead of ourselves, on the contrary my players are humble. There are a lot more matches to come and we have to keep up this level of industry.”

Monday sees the 2012 Nations Cup move across the border to Libreville for two Group C games, with co-hosts Gabon against debutants Niger followed by the Maghreb derby between Morocco and Tunisia.

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