Gervinho, Yaya Toure and Didier Ya Konan scored a goal each against Tunisia on Saturday at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg to secure Cote d’Ivoire’s ticket to the quarter-finals of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.
The faceoff began in a state of agitation, with the two sides threading sloppy passes in the midfield and unable to maintain possession of the ball. Ben Youssef and Youssef Msakni were manning the attack of the Eagles of Carthage, but were always relieved of the ball by excellent tackles from Newcastle’s midfielder Cheick Tiote and Didier Zokora.
The Elephants, short of the services of their talismanic captain Didier Drogba, gained a foothold after the first quarter, with Salomon Kalou missing two clear cut chances after his close-range header failed to find the target and a powerful drive from 20 yards was blocked by Tunisia goalkeeper Ben Cherifia.
By the 21st minute, the Ivorians were still on top of proceedings and opened the scoring through a corner kick, when Gervinho snatched a loose ball from a Tunisian defender to the left of the box before hitting a low pass to Anzhi Makhachkala forward Lacina Traore, who generously threaded back to the Arsenal player, who side-footed his effort well into the back net to put the West Africans ahead.
The Ivorians continued to pour forth in a bid to strengthen their lead, with dangerous efforts from Emmanuel Eboue and Yaya Toure impressively repelled by Cherifia.
The north Africans showed some determination to pull level after the half hour mark. Some neat passing between Saber Khlifa, Mejdi Traoui and Msakni upfront could have created goal chances but failed to survive a well-drilled Ivorian defensive system administered by former Leicester City centre-back Souleymane Bamba, who was preferred to Kolo Toure for this game after the Manchester City defender came under fire following his low showing against Togo on Tuesday.
Tunisia defender Chammam Khalil of current Caf champions Esperance manoeuvred a ball with a hand inside their box following pressure from Toure and Traore, but protests for a penalty from the Ivorian bench were ignored by the Mauritian referee Rajindraparsad Seechurn. The Elephants continued their search for decent goal chances until the end of the first half.
Traore had the first goal opportunity after the break from a free kick executed by PSG’s Siaka Tiene, but the tall striker headed down to the side of the post.
Tunisia coach Sami Trabelsi brought in Oussama Darragi and Hamdi Harbaoui by the hour mark as the Eagles hustled and harried for an equalizer. Khlifa was served to the right flank of the Ivorian area, but after outrunning his marker and charging into the box, he hit a powerful effort that whistled just wide.
Lacina Traore was brought off for Didier Drogba by the 68th minute, and after fluffing a few goal chances upfront, the former Chelsea star retreated to assist their increasingly feeble defence as the Tunisians multiplied threatening attempts in front of the Ivorian goal.
Msakni was tripped to the right of the median line by Tiote, who was lucky not to bag a second yellow card.
Cote d’Ivoire retook domination during the last 10 minutes of the meeting, with Yaya Toure doubling their lead after linking a cross from Tiene and unleashing a long-range effort that finished its course inside the Tunisian net, with eight minutes to full time.
Last minute substitute Didier Ya Konan of Hannover scored the third goal for the Elephants after collecting an assist from Gervinho.
The Eagles of Carthage had a couple of chances to answer their opposition during the added time but were denied by Ivorian goalkeeper Copa Barry.
The Elephants have qualified for the quarter-finals after totalling six points from their two victories.