OYEM, Gabon, Jan 16 – Ivory Coast made a disappointing start to their Africa Cup of Nations title defence Monday when held 0-0 by lowest Group C seeds Togo in Gabonese town Oyem.
Paris Saint-Germain defender Serge Aurier came close to breaking the deadlock with two minutes remaining, heading a cross narrowly wide in a match that failed to sparkle.
The result maintained a trend of stalemates in the 2017 tournament, which kicked off two days ago, with four of the first five matches failing to produce a winner.
“It is not the start that we would have liked,” admitted Ivory Coast coach Michel Dussuyer, who succeeded French Ligue 1-bound Herve Renard after the 2015 triumph.
“We were warned (outsiders Zimbabwe holding Algeria Sunday), but could not raise our level of play to do better than that.
“There are still two matches left. We expect more from ourselves. We did not manage to put intensity into our game. We played at 1700 local time (1600 GMT) and it was very hot.
“We did not know how to destabilise Togo. In the end, it was a pale copy of what we can do. We are all aware of this, me more so than anyone,”
Togo coach Claude le Roy was satisfied with a point as he began his ninth Cup of Nations having failed to reach the knockout phase in only one previous tournament.
“I feel we had a good match. Hats off to my players. We qualified (for this Cup of Nations) at the last second in a country where there has not been a championship for the past three years.
“I feared this Ivory Coast team. On some actions, we were near scoring, which would have been marvellous.”
The Ivorian starting line-up included two English Premier League footballers, Manchester United defender Eric Bailly and Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha.
Abidjan-born Zaha was making his first competitive debut for the Elephants having switched international allegiance after two friendly appearances for adopted country England.
Togo were captained by striker Emmanuel Adebayor, now clubless after spells with Premier League outfits Arsenal, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Crystal Palace.
Scoring chances were scarce in a first half watched by a small crowd at a 20,000-seat stadium built on the outskirts of Oyem, a town in northern Gabon.
The best for the title-holders came after 10 minutes to Jonathan Kodjia, a gangling striker with English second-tier outfit Aston Villa.
Salomon Kalou, a survivor of the 2015 Cup of Nations-winning team, did the spadework by dribbing past several red-shirted Togolese before pushing the ball into the box.
Kodjia darted forward with the goal in his sights, but fell as he was poised to shoot and goalkeeper Kossi Agassa blocked the loose ball and averted the danger.
Togo had an opportunity to break the deadlock just before the half-hour mark when a cross from the left wing found the Ivorian defence wanting.
But goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo spotted the potential danger and darted off his goalline to parry a low shot from veteran midfielder Matthieu Dossevi.
As an equally cagey, largely chance-less second half meandered into the final quarter, Ivory Coast coach Michel Dussuyer substituted one Premier League attacker with another.
Off came Zaha and on his place arrived Wilfried Bony, an underachieving striker with Stoke City, on loan from Manchester City.
Togo, who had drawn twice and lost twice to Ivory Coast in four previous Cup of Nations clashes, were well organised and not overawed at facing a country ranked 21 places higher in Africa.
They had a half chance on 78 minutes as Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba evaded his marker in the goalmouth, but his header flew over.