Inside the opening five minutes, Gradel put Ivory Coast in front with a powerful right-foot strike from 20-yards out and win helped them to top of Group E.
Max Gradel’s early goal helped African giants Ivory Coast to a 1-0 win against Equatorial Guinea in the African Cup of Nations Group E fixture at Japoma Stadium on Wednesday. The Ivory Coast side, that had Wilfried Zaha on the bench, could have scored more goals had they been a bit more clinical in front of goal. Ibrahim Sangare, had two chances to double the lead before half-time. Meanwhile Equatorial Guinea, one of Africa’s smallest countries, fought hard against the two-time continental champions.
Inside the opening five minutes, Gradel put Ivory Coast in front with a powerful right-foot strike from 20-yards out. Equatorial Guinea were unhappy with Gradel’s opener, appealing for a foul on Jose Machin in the build-up, but referee Redouane Jiyed confirmed the goal would stand after consulting his pitchside monitor.
The minnows created several good chances with their captain Emilio Nsue failing to convert the best of them. He beat the off-side trap on the counter attack in the 63rd minute and had the goal at his mercy but hit his shot tamely at the Ivorian goalkeeper Badara Ali Sangare.
Pablo Ganet and Iban Salvador also went close midway through the half as Equatorial Guinea played without any fear against the heavyweight opponents. However, lack of quality in the final third cost them.
Meanwhile the Ivory Coast forwards also didn’t have a great game as Arsenal-man Nicolas Pepe, who came off the bench had two chances in the last 10 minutes but failed to get on the scoresheet. Equatorial Guinea keeper Manuel Sapunga Mbara thwarted the Arsenal forward’s effort with a fine fingertip save.
The win helped Ivory Coast to top of the group after defending champions Algeria were held to a goalless draw by Sierra Leone in Douala on Tuesday.
• The title holders kickoff their campaign with a draw against #TeamSierraLeone 🤝
• #TeamCotedivoire with the W ✅
— #TotalEnergiesAFCON2021 🏆 (@CAF_Online) January 13, 2022
In the other match of the day, Gambia registered their first win at the African Cup of Nations finals by beating Mauritania 1-0 in their opening Group F match at Limbe stadium. Ablie Jallow scored early as they made an impressive debut at the tournament.
Jallow was set up by a quickly-taken set piece from Musa Barrow, catching the Mauritania defense off guard and giving the newbies a perfect start. Gambia are joined at the top of the group standings by Mali, who edged Tunisia 1-0 in a controversy-filled encounter.