IVORY COAST 0-0 TOGO
Day three of the ongoing AFCON in Gabon saw holders and reigning champions, the Elephants of Ivory Coast line up against the Hawks of Togo in what was the group opener and the first game of the day. The holders were expected to kick-start the defence of the title they won two years ago in grand style but it was not meant to be as dour and lackluster stalemate was rather recorded in a game which served up an anticlimax to the exciting games on day two.
The Ivory Coast, (who came into the tournament as one of the hot favourites and with Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha who had just switched allegiance from England just in time for the commencement of the tourney) looked like opening their AFCON 2017 account with a bang but it was not the ideal start they envisaged. Togo, led by the evergreen and talismanic Adebayor were content to sit back and hold their own against the avalanche of Ivory Coast attackers who looked inept and clueless in attack.
The likes of Jonathan Kodjia and Serge Aurier all came agonizingly close to getting the opener but fluffed their lines at varying points in the game. In a game of very few precious presentable opportunities, Togo looked like frustrating the defending champions and forcing them into frantic moves and it paid off as the clock began to wind down. In what was a lackluster game overall with both sides struggling for fluency, the Ivory Coast have it all to do if they can go all the way again this time around and they will be looking forward to the second round of matches in the group to get their tournament back on track.
For Togo, getting a point off of the holders is quite admirable and having seen off the challenge of arguably the toughest side in the group, Claude Le Roy and his charges will be fancying their chances of qualification into the next stage of the competiton. The fifth game of Gabon 2017 ended in a draw meaning 4 out of the first 5 games have all been drawn games.
DR CONGO 1-0 MOROCCO
DR Congo took a giant step towards qualification into the last eight of the competition with a hard and well-earned 1-0 victory over the Atlas Lions of Morocco. The Leopards were the surprise package of the 2015 AFCON with their bronze winning displays cementing their status as one of the emerging forces on the continent.
Shorn of their most influential player and talisman in Everton’s Yannick Bolasie before the tournament through injury, Florent Ibenge’s charges were understandably stale and dull in attack for the majority of the first half as Morocco took the initiative to try to get their noses in front. In a pretty evenly matched first half, the chances were few and far in between but it was an entirely different approach to proceedings in the second half as DR Congo came flying out of the blocks immediately and their persistence would pay off eventually with barely 10 minutes into the restart.
Junior Kabananga showed incredible skill and composure to bury the Leopards into the lead on the 55th minute which turned out to be the only goal of the game. Morocco huffed and puffed for the majority of the second half but could not muster the equalizer, not even after DR Congo were reduced to ten men after Lomalisa Mutambala received his marching orders for a second bookable offence after 82 minutes of action. Harve Renard, winner of the tournament as coach of Ivory Coast two years ago seemingly has a task at hand if he is going to win his third AFCON title.
With Ivory Coast unable to get the better of Togo earlier in the day, the group has been blown wide open with DR Congo surprisingly taking the early initiative. The next batch of games in the group could prove pivotal.
By: Enoch Andoh-Mensah