Ivory Coast Edge Madagascar In Afcon Qualifiers

By Ibrahim Taiwo, The Nigerian Voice Sports

Ivory Coast have drawn level with Madagascar at the top of Group K in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers after defeating the islanders 2-1 at Stade Ebimpe in Abidjan on Thursday evening.

The result sees the Elephants and Barea level on six points at the head of the standings, with Ethiopia (three points) and Niger (zero) set to play their matchday three fixture against each other on Friday.

The match was delayed due to inclement weather, while the Elephants handed debuts to two English-based players: Wily Boly started in the heart of defence, while midway through the first half Sebastien Haller came off the bench to replace the injured Jonathan Kodjia.

Haller made a fine impression, with his physicality causing some trouble for the Madagascar defence, though the visitors were disciplined and organised at the back – especially the outstanding Jeremy Morel.

Veteran attacker Gervinho struggled to stamp his authority on the game, yet the Elephants still created a few good chances in the first half – the best of which saw Nicolas Pepe shoot off target with the interval looming.

After an unimpressive first half, Gervinho came out flying after the break and opened the scoring three minutes after the restart, providing a lovely finish past goalkeeper Melvin Adrien to make it 1-0.

Things got even better for the West Africans when Max Gradel teed up Haller to mark his debut with a goal, finishing off from close range on 55 minutes to make it 2-0 and put Ivory Coast in full control.

However, Barea hit back just before the hour mark, with Serge Aurier and goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo both left somewhat embarrassed after Paulin Voavy netted from a simple attacking move to reduce the deficit.

Ivory Coast saw a huge appeal for a penalty turned down with about 15 minutes of regulation time remaining, with Haller clearly felled in the 18-yard area. Yet the hosts were still able to see out the match and claim victory, despite a strong ending to the game from Madagascar.

The return match will be held at Stade Barikamdimy in Toamasina on Tuesday 17 November. (Reuters)