Max Gradel’s thunderous first-half strike was enough to hand Ivory Coast victory against Equatorial Guinea in yet another 1-0 scoreline at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Ivory Coast were looking to bounce back from the disappointment of finishing second in their World Cup qualifying group, which ended their hopes of reaching Qatar.
And they were ahead inside five minutes at the Stade de Douala in Cameroon, with former Leeds and Bournemouth winger Max Gradel firing an unstoppable effort into the top corner from 20 yards out.
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Gradel looked emotional when celebrating the goal, with his team-mates mobbing the 34-year-old Sivasspor star while he had his hands over his face.
Equatorial Guinea looked to respond, but Basilio Ndong saw an effort saved before Saul Coco spurned a couple of chances.
After the break, Equatorial Guinea continued to push and probe for an equaliser, but Dorian Hanza, Iban Salvador and Emilio Nsue all missed opportunities.
Arsenal’s Nicolas Pepe replaced Gradel with 20 minutes to go, and he was Ivory Coast’s best hope of a second goal.
Pepe saw a shot blocked and another attempt saved, while fellow second-half substitute Wilfried Zaha also narrowly missed out on doubling their advantage.
It mattered not, however, with Ivory Coast securing the win to go top of Group E, after Algeria and Sierra Leone played out a 0-0 draw.
Ivory Coast’s 1-0 win was the ninth by that scoreline in the tournament after just 12 games.
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