ALGERIA 2-2 COTE D’IVOIRE
The final fixture of a round-robin between two of the continent’s highest ranked teams should never finish on amicable terms, and yet that’s just how Algeria were sent home, and the Ivory Coast trekked on. Algeria were playing for pride following embarrassing losses to Tunisia and Togo. Cote D’Ivoire were playing for formalities following their smooth wins against Tunisia and Togo.
Sabri Lamouchi relished the extra license his side afforded him as he instated a complete re-shuffle. Out went the red-hot Gervinho, the majestic Yaya Toure, and the bruising Cheick Tiote. In came Wilfried ‘Daddy Cool’ Bony, captain Didier Drogba, and ‘King’ Kolo Toure. The eleven men Lamouchi pencilled in for last night’s fixture only outlined the embarrassment of riches at the Franco-Tunisian’s disposal.
His Bosnian counterpart reverted to a 4-3-2-1. The only real surprise Halilhodzic had in store was Sofiane Feghouli missing out at the expense of Ryad Boudebouz. The tricky Sochalien seemed unhappy with his non-involvement during this year’s tournament and he was quick to show everyone what they were missing.
Ryad’s quick start
With the geriatric Boka en face, Boudebouz unleashed a trademark set of swirling stopovers which saw him round two Ivorians before winning a corner. But Boudebouz was not close to being finished, as Algeria won their first penalty of the tournament in the 7th minute. The man who boasts a perfect record in Ligue 1 (8 out of 8) missed the first penalty of his professional career. But Boudebouz didn’t let the miss affect his form. Minutes later he turned Boka once more and played a sumptuous ball in for Soudani who missed it by a few inches.
After weathering the youthful threat, the Ivory Coast began to click. Drogba and Bony showcased a telepathic understanding, linking up on multiple occasions. Arouna Kone conjured up a storm of his own, winning cheap foul after cheap foul from the ever-giving Mesbah. Despite their liveliness, Drogba and co were not able to penetrate M’Bolhi’s net after 45.
Coach Vahid must have known something the rest of us didn’t as he inaugurated the second half with the substitution of Ryad Boudebouz. In came Sofiane Feghouli and his impact was immediate. Feghouli turned away from a Bony-Razak body trap and the ball fell to Guedioura who swept a searching ball into the box. Instead of finding Soudani or Slimani, Guedioura’s cross landed on Arthur Boka’s arm which prompted referee Eric Otogo-Castane to blow for the match’s second spot-kick of the night. This time, another one of Algeria’s promising youngsters stepped up. This time, there would be no doubt. 1-0 to Les Fennecs, courtesy of Sofiane Feghouli. And he wasn’t finished. Five minutes later, Feghouli latched on to an unorthodox Mehdi Mostefa slide pass and curved a perfect cross to Hilel Soudani who headed home his first, Algeria’s second of the tournament.
It didn’t take the Elephants long to respond. Kolo Toure launched a seemingly hopeless punt towards M’bolhi, which Drogba undercut and deflected in. Game on. Three minutes later, Wilfried Bony embarked on one of his runs after a clever combination. He found himself 30 yards out and surrounded by defenders. As coolly as his sobriquet suggests, Bony unleashed a fierce shot which was cruel enough to tag Mesbah before trumping M’Bolhi and equalizing. Captain Didier had one last chance at truly torturing Algeria, but Rais M’Bolhi was quick to get down and deny him.
SFG Man of the Match: Wilfried Bony
The Vitesse strongman was good from start to finish. Bony used his strength and size to hold off Algeria’s midfielders in a tertiary trequartista role. At times he resembled my bemused father, easily shielding the ball from tiny nephews. Daddy Cool capped his performance with a good goal which deserves plaudits in spite of its obvious deflection.
TOGO 1-1 TUNISIA
With Ivory Coast through as group winners and Algeria playing for pride, the permutations were simple: a draw was enough for Togo to go through, Tunisia had to win. In tournament that has been rife with poor officiating, we unquestionably saw the all-time nadir of officiating by English-born South African referee Daniel Bennett. But it wasn’t enough to derail Togo’s quest to reach the knockout stages for the first time in an entertaining 1-1 draw.
Togo coach Didier Six had quipped pre-match that they shouldn’t struggle with the horrific state of the Mbombela Stadium pitch, for it’s an upgrade of the pitch of Togo’s national stadium. After a scrappy first few minutes, Six’s assessments came to fruition; it was Togo who were the first to simmer down and stroke the ball almost absent-mindedly, Alaixys Romao their conductor at the core of the midfield.
With Tunisia seeking a win, the Eagles of Carthage deployed a high defensive line as they went in search of goals, the creative nous of Oussama Darragi drafted in from the outset to add further imagination. Another addition was the return of the monstrous centre-half Walid Hichri, presumably to deal with the rangy figure of Emmanuel Adebayor, whilst Chadi Hammami was allocated an unfamiliar right-back role.
Tunisia’s bouncers struggle with Togo pace
Although Tunisia were worried about the aerial duels, it was the duels across the ground which were looking ominous in the opening quarter of an hour. The lack of pace commonplace throughout their back four added with the blistering pace of Togo made Togo’s attacking forays eerily similar; the front three of Emmanuel Adebayor, Serge Gakpe and Floyd Ayite all on the same wavelength. The breakthrough finally came in the 13th minute when Adebayor slipped in Gakpe. The left winger was offside but he fired low past Ben Cherifia. 1-0.
Tunisia equalised in the 30th minute when they were awarded a penalty after Dare Nibombe was penalised pushing Walid Hichri to the floor at a corner, though it seemed it was more a case of the Esperance defender making the most of it. Khaled Mouelhi stepped up and calmly placed it past Agassa. Whilst Togo continued to breach Tunisia’s backline with their pace, nerves arose in the Togo backline as Tunisia became increased their urgency in search of a goal.
Second half marred by poor officiating
The interval didn’t see a change of approach by either side. Togo were content to preserve their draw and hit Tunisia on the counter-attack, whilst Tunisia patiently kept the ball on the floor; sticking to their principles and hoping their creative talents would conjure something.
The second half also saw the game besieged by a plethora of refereeing errors. Oussama Darragi was the first to be denied a penalty as he got himself infront of Bossou, the defender, aiming to kick the ball, kicked the Tunisia attacking midfielder. Floyd Ayite was next to be denied a penalty after Aymen Abdennour shoved him the back, the Mr Bennett giving a corner instead. A minute later, it was Adebayor’s turn. The striker went around Ben Cherifia but was pulled down, sparking bemusement all around when no penalty was awarded. Centre-back Dare Nibombe was then booked, which was a case of mistaken identity as it was Serge Akakpo who had committed the foul.
Naturally, due to the balance of decisions being in favour of Tunisia, there was a growing belief that the referee was on a one-man quest to keep the Maghrebians in the tournament. And he further played up to the conspiracy theorists by awarding a penalty to Tunisia after Nibombe was adjudged to have knocked Saber Khelifa from behind. Justice was done as Mouelhi went for Agassa’s left side, hitting the post. At the very end, Tunisia nearly got their breakthrough but a terrific point-blank save by Kossi Agassa denied Fakhredine Ben Youssef.
SFG Man of the Match: Emmanuel Adebayor
The Tottenham Hotspur striker continues to display the all-round ability which has seen him don the jerseys of Europe’s elite. Whether it’s goals, assists, hold-up play, chasing lost causes, Adebayor has brought his best game to the tournament. We saw no goals today but we saw the assist and the way he sacrifices himself for the team.