MALABO, Equatorial Guinea,January 20 – Substitute Seydou Doumbia rescued a point for 10-man Ivory Coast as the Elephants drew 1-1 with Guinea in their opening game at the Africa Cup of Nations in Malabo on Tuesday.
CSKA Moscow forward Doumbia finished low into the bottom left-hand corner of the net after linking up excellently with Wilfried Bony 18 minutes from the end of a dramatic Group D encounter between the west African neighbours in Equatorial Guinea’s capital.
Herve Renard’s team, captained by African player of the year Yaya Toure, were widely considered favourites to get the better of the group outsiders but fell behind when Mohamed Yattara struck eight minutes before the interval.
And their hopes of taking anything from the game were seriously compromised when Gervinho was shown a straight red card early in the second half following a clash in the Guinea penalty area that left Naby Keita down requiring treatment.
In a section that also contains Cameroon and Mali, both sides will leave disappointed with the final outcome, with Guinea unable to make the most of their numerical superiority and the Ivory Coast left with a lot of work still to do to win their first continental crown since 1992.
Guinea’s hopes of winning this game, played in temperatures creeping above 30 degrees and high humidity, were not helped by the absence of skipper Kamil Zayatte due to injury and Seydouba Soumah, their top scorer in qualifying, through suspension.
They were lucky to remain on level terms in an opening half hour in which the Ivory Coast had the best of the chances, with Roma winger Gervinho breaking into the box and then seeing his shot turned against the bar by goalkeeper Naby Yattara after Bony failed with an initial effort.
Gervinho burst into the area again following a pass from Eric Bailly, only for Yattara to stop what was this time a weak attempt.
Instead it was Guinea, with Keita and Ibrahima Conte looking particularly enterprising in midfield, who got their noses in front on 37 minutes.
The Elephants’ defence failed to deal with a hanging cross from Guinea’s stand-in captain Ibrahima Traore, and Lyon striker Yattara lashed the ball high into the roof of the net much to the delight of the Syli Nationale’s fans.
The Ivorian side were then reduced to 10 men just before the hour mark following a moment of madness from Gervinho, and they almost fell further behind moments later when Traore’s shot from range crashed off the bar.
Renard was forced to look to his bench for inspiration and Doumbia took the place of Salomon Kalou as part of a double change on 65 minutes.
The 27-year-old did not require long to make his mark, and both sides had to settle for a share of the spoils.