Gervinho, Ivory Coast beat Togo at African Cup of Nations
Gervinho scored an 88th-minute winner as title-favorite Ivory Coast opened its African Cup of Nations campaign with a 2-1 victory over Togo on Tuesday.
The Arsenal forward ran behind the Togo defenders and found the net at the far post after a long free kick by Yaya Toure.
Toure had scored from inside the area less than 10 minutes into the match after a move started by Gervinho, and Jonathan Ayite equalized for Togo from a corner just before halftime as the teams opened play in Group D on a hot afternoon in the northwestern city of Rustenburg.
Togo nearly equalized again in the fourth and final minute of added time, but Floyd Ayite's header from close range drew a great save from Ivory Coast goalkeeper Boubacar Barry.
Defender Dare Nibombe appeared to have given Togo the lead in the 60th but the goal was disallowed because the referee had yet to authorize the corner kick that led to his scoring header.
Togo coach Didier Six walked out of the post-match news conference after saying just a few words, but it wasn't clear if he was upset because of the refereeing. He was visibly distraught at the time the goal was disallowed off, gesturing at the officials.
"There are no words I can say,'' he said through a translator before leaving without taking questions from reporters.
Led by Didier Drogba and several players from European clubs, Ivory Coast struggled to create many chances against the tightly-organized Togo team, whose scoring opportunities mostly fell to Tottenham striker Emmanuel Adebayor.
"We went through a lot of difficulties,'' Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi said, through a translator. "It was not an easy game, hopefully we can be better in the next one.''
The Ivorians, who last won the title in 1992, are trying to come back from a disappointing loss to Zambia in a penalty shootout in last year's final.
Tunisia and Algeria will play the other Group D match at Royal Bafokeng Stadium later on Tuesday.
Ivory Coast got off the mark in the eighth minute after Gervinho beat a defender on the right side and made a low cross to Toure. The Manchester City midfielder struck a shot from just inside the area and the ball deflected off a defender before going into the net, fooling Togo goalkeeper Kossi Agassa.
Toure hit the post in the 44th, but it was Togo which scored just a few moments later. Jonathan Ayite struck home a right-footed shot after a low corner cross from the right side, the ball bouncing just in front of Ivory Coast goalkeeper Barry before finding the net.
"We were supposed to have at least a draw,'' Jonathan Ayite said.
Toure almost got his second goal in the 75th, but his shot from near the penalty spot was saved by Agassa.
Adebayor had one of his best opportunities just three minutes into the match after a blunder by Manchester City defender Kolo Toure left him with only Barry to beat. But he failed in his attempt to dribble past him in front of the goal.
"Our goalkeeper was outstanding,'' Kolo Toure said.
Adebayor had threatened not to play at the tournament because of security concerns and disagreements with Togo's football federation over bonus payments for players, but eventually decided to join his teammates.
Gervinho was more clinical with his finishing just two minutes from time, steering the ball into the far corner from a narrow angle after connecting with Toure's cross into the area. Gervinho has scored only five goals for Arsenal this season, the last on Oct. 3.
Ivory Coast has 21 Europe-based players in its squad. Drogba, probably with his last chance to win a title with his national team, is playing in China. He was substituted in the 74th minute on Tuesday.