Côte d’Ivoire bounced back to winning ways after a nervy 2-1 win over Madagascar on Thursday saw them pick their second Group K victory in the qualifiers for the 2021 Total Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) to move to six points and joint top.
On his debut, Sebastian Haller stepped off the bench to score the second goal for the Ivoirians after Yao Gervinho had broken the deadlock. Polin Voavy grabbed one back for Madagascar in the second half, but they couldn’t compete the comeback job.
— FIFCI (@FIFCI_tweet) November 12, 2020
The opening half didn’t make for many scoring chances and the few that were there, belonged to the home side who looked keen to pick victory and bounce back from their shock loss to Ethiopia on match day two last November.
The Ivoirians were however forced into a change in the 20th minute when Jonathan Kodjia had to come off injured after landing awkwardly and was replaced by Sebastian Haller who was coming in for his debut.
Madagascar had the first opportunity of the game in the 24th minute when Carolus Andriamahitsinoro attempted to catch Ivorian keeper Sylvain Gbohou off his line with a freekick, but the burly custodian managed to backtrack and tip the ball behind for a corner.
But from then on it was the hosts who dominated the chances and came close in the 34th minute when Franck Kessie’s header off a Nicholas Pepe freekick bounced just wide with the keeper beaten.
Three minutes later, Serge Aurier did well on the right before delivering an enticing low cross, but the ball trickled across the line with Haller agonizingly throwing himself forward in a bid to give it a touch into the gaping goalmouth.
At the stroke of halftime, Pepe had a chance of his own when a poorly defended ball from a corner landed on his path, but his volley flew straight into keeper Melvin Adrien’s arms.
In the second half though, Cote d’Ivore were different, and within nine minutes of the restart, they were 2-0 up. Gervinho made it 1-0 three minutes into the second half with a sweetly struck volley after Pepe’s pass inside the box was blocked.
In the 54th minute, the Ivoirians were 2-0 up when debutant Haller scored on his first ever start for The Elephants, diving to head home from a yard out after Max Gradel squared the ball to him when he dispossessed Jeremy Morel.
Madagascar were quickly shocked going 2-0 down in quick succession and they put in the work to try and get back into contention. They halved the deficit in the 59th minute through Voavy’s shot, the Egypt based player striking a strong low shot after being set up by Marco Ilaimaharitra.
The home side started living dangerously with Madagascar seeing an opportunity to equalize. However, the back-line sat compact to ensure they pick up victory and put their qualification path back on track.
Gabon 2-1 Gambia
Meanwhile, Gabon were 2-1 winners over Gambia in Franceville, the victory taking them top of Group D with seven points.
Denis Bouanga scored the opener after six minutes before skipper Pierre Emerick Aubameyang scored the second just 10 minutes after the break.
Substitute Boubacarr Jobe halved the deficit for Gambia with nine minutes left, but they could not get to the bitter end, Gabon keeping their hopes of returning to Africa’s Premier competition alive.
Bouanga scored the first in the sixth minute with a low shot from the edge of the box after Gambia struggled to clear before Aubameyang made it 2-0 10 minutes from the break with a close range finish.
Jobe drew one back with nine minutes left when he controlled Bubakarr Trawaly’s cross after beating the offside trap before calmly finishing past the keeper.
VICTOIRE DES PANTHÈRES DANS LA DOULEUR… MAIS ON EST SUR LA BONNE VOIE.
RDV A BANJUL…🇬🇦
— Fédération Gabonaise de Football – FEGAFOOT (@fegafoot_gabon) November 12, 2020
This article was previously published on CAFonline.com