The ‘Elephants’ of Ivory Coast got a big 2-1 win against Madagascar on Thursday night to get themselves back in contention for the top spot in group K of the 2021 AFCON qualifiers.
Madagascar went into the encounter with a 100% record after beating both Niger and Ethiopia in their opening two fixtures of qualification.
After successfully switching their international allegiance a month ago England-based duo Sebastien Haller and Willy Boly made their international debuts for the West African nation.
Boly started at the centre of defence and lasted the whole 90 minutes keeping things tidy and solid at the back while Haller came on as a 23rd minute substitute for Jonathan Khodjia who was forced off due to an injury.
Ivory Coast started the game on the front foot with Arsenal winger Nicolas Pepe, Parma veteran Gervinho and Turkish-based Max Gradel causing the visitors problems in the first half, but all the stars failed to hit the target as the first stanza ended goalless. Early in the second half Gervinho opened the scoring for the ‘Elephants’ going for power and placement to beat the Madagascan shot-stopper and make it 1-0 to the hosts.
Minutes later Max Gradel broke down the right wing before putting in a wonderfully chipped cross into the path of West Ham United striker Haller who made no mistake with a beautiful diving header to make it 2-0 to the former African champions. Paulin later pulled one back for the Southern African side as the game eventually ended 2-1 in favour of the West Africans.
The win sees Patrice Beaumelle’s side move top of the group with 6 points from the three games played so far. They will be pleased to bounce back with a win after losing against Ethiopia last year November.
Third-placed Ethiopia is set to do battle with group K’s whipping boys Niger who are yet to collect a point in the campaign so far. The return leg will be played in Madagascar on Tuesday with both sides pushing for a good result to have a full grip on the group.
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BY Prince Sobayeni