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sako v IC

Day 8 and the second match to be played for teams n Group D.  First up Cote D’Ivoire against Mali, both teams on one point after drawing their respective opening games 1-1. The Ivorians were lack-lustre in that game and will want to put on a better show against Mali to show their credentials in this tournament that they are favourites to win, for many. Mali looked to stick to their 4-1-4-1 formation that heloed them earn their opening draw with Cameroon, playing Mustapha Yatabare as the outright striker.

Once again Cote D’Ivoire were slow starters, Mali seeming the more determined side in the opening exchanges. It will be a worry for the Ivorian coach Herve Renard as his side were slow starters in their opening match. Just six minutes into this encounter in Nuevo Estadio De Malabo though, Mali took the lead with a wonderful goal from Wolverhampton’s Bakary Sako, only his fourth international goal but almost certainly his best. Sambou Yatabare had sent over a cross deep into the Ivorian box, Sako meeting first time on the half volley, smashing past ‘keeper Sylvain Gbohouo, giving him no chance at all. The Ivorian Elephants now had it all to do and seemed to spark into life somewhat, with quicker play but still looking disjointed and far from a cohesive team. Herve Renard cut a frustrated figure on the sideline, made worse by a contentious referreing decision from Moroccan referee, Bouchaib El Ahrach just after the half hour mark. After some sublime skill from Wilfried Bony, he was clearly brought down in the Mali box by Molla Wague but nothing was given, Mali remaining in control for the best part, captain Seydou Keita dictating the tempo of the game, pulling the strings in the midfield. Mali keeper Soumbeila Diakite did need to produce a terrific save befoe half-time, Kolo Toure’s header palmed away after a well taken corner. But Mali still held their advantage going in at half-time, plenty of work for the Ivorians to do to avoid defeat on a another humid evening in Malabo.

Renard’s words may have had some affect in the half time break, with his side looking a more determined unit, putting together some good passing moves, Bony missing two headed chances, the tireless Tiote now coming into the game and Yaya Toure also starting to stamp his authority in the midfield. As they continued to press and build pressure on Les Aigles they were still open to moments of weakness in defence, Gbohouo guilty of making a hash of a cross, Wilfired Kanon needing to be on hand to clear away with the keeper stranded. But Cote D’Ivoire were not to be denied, equalising with five minutes of normal time remaining and once again it was a goal of high quality which we have been spoiled with at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations. Chiek Tiote started the move with a fine through ball to marauding right back Serge Aurier who’s first time cut-back found substitute Max Gradel in the box, who struck home with aplomb, a sign of the quality the Elephants have in attack.

One one is how it remained, Mali perhaps the happier to come out of the game with a single point. Kolo Toure made the point after the game that the Ivory Coast squad is full of belief and are confident in beating Cameroon in the final group game to ensure their progression to the Quarter-Finals. It will be a compelling encounter on the 28th of January between the two African footballing super-powers, both with everything to play for, whilst Mali take on Guinea with a firm eye also on knockout football.