RUSTENBURG, South Africa, January 23 – Mistake-strewn Ivory Coast laboured to an opening win over Togo and Tunisia’s artful midfielder Youssef Msakni struck late to deny Algeria in the Africa Cup of Nations on Tuesday.
Didier Drogba’s Ivorians, favourites to finally land the continental showcase, were on course for a surprise draw after Jonathan Ayite cancelled 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 to put them top of Group D.
Togo had a second-half goal disallowed by the referee for taking a free-kick too quickly and this incensed Togo’s coach Didier Six to such a degree he stormed out of the post-match media conference claiming “the rules weren’t respected”.
Lamouchi, meanwhile, lamented an error-riddled display from his players.
“I was expecting something better from us — it wasn’t our best performance,” he 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 Nations Cup, 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,” said last season’s Champions League winner.
While Togo, back at the tournament after the deadly Cabinda attack before the 2010 Nations Cup in Angola, may have come away with nothing, the team led by Tottenham striker Emmanuel Adebayor covered themselves in glory.
And 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 has conceded in 613 minutes of Africa Cup 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 towards a scrappy goalless draw until the 90th minute.
Tunisia’s young midfield magician Youssef Msakni then struck a right-foot curling shot into the Algerian 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 exploit 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,” reflected Algeria coach Vahid Halilhodzic.
“We weren’t Barcelona, but we created numerous chances,” he added.
For Tunisia coach Sami Trabelsi this was a major boost in his bid to make it to the knockout stages of a competition he competed in as a player in South Africa in 1996, losing to Bafana Bafana (The Boys) in the final.
“You have to be really patient in a match like that as they are often decided at the last minute,” he said.
Off the pitch, competition organisers CAF fined Ethiopia $10,000 (7,517 euros), with half suspended, as punishment after their fans pelted the pitch with vuvuzelas (plastic horns) and other objects during Monday’s game against title-holders Zambia in Nelspruit.
On Wednesday, the Cup focus turns to Durban where South Africa have their second Group A run-out, against Angola, with Morocco facing Cape Verde — the group finely balanced after last Saturday’s brace of goalless draws.