Drogba saves Ivory Coast blushes
Africa Cup of Nations favourites Ivory Coast won a tense Group B opener against Sudan here on Sunday, Didier Drogba earning the star-studded Elephants a 1-0 win.
For a side ranked 102 rungs below the Ivorians in FIFA's ranking, Sudan covered themselves with glory, yet Drogba's decisive intervention leaves them struggling and sets the 1992 champions on course for the quarter-finals.
After a fraught first half in which Sudan more than held their own, Drogba calmed Ivorian nerves six minutes before the break.
The Chelsea striker broke the deadlock against the Nile Crocodiles when he rose to head in a superb cross from his club team-mate Salomon Kalou.
But Ivory Coast almost found themselves back on level terms on the stroke of half-time, with only goalkeeper Boubacar Barry's brilliant reaction tipping the ball over the crossbar to deny Mudather Elteib's menacing strike.
Sudan came out for the second half and continued in the same vein, defending stoutly and trying to catch their illustrious opponents out on the counter-attack.
The footballing millionaires went close to doubling their lead just before the hour, only for Sudan keeper Mahjoub El Moez to be up to the task of repelling Gervinho's low attempt.
The Arsenal forward had the Sudan defence trembling again in the 76th minute when running onto a long lob and charging into the area, only to squander a clear opportunity to put the match to bed.
The Ivorians, while relieved to escape with three points, looked far from potential champions and will have to improve markedly if they are to fulfil their massive potential and shed their unwanted reputation as chokers.
That moniker has been attached to them after they lost the 2006 final to hosts Egypt, who stopped them again in the semi-finals in 2008, while in 2010 they were stunned by hosts Angola in the quarter-finals.
Next up for Drogba and company are Burkina Faso, with Sudan facing Angola, both matches scheduled for Malabo on Thursday.
Sudan will be trying to win their first Nations Cup match outside Sudan since 1963.
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