Ivory Coast beat Burundi 2-1 on Sunday in Abidjan to crown their flawless 2012 African Cup of Nations qualifying campaign with six victories, after booking their place for the finals in the fourth round.
Manchester City's Kolo and Yaya Toure were both on target for the hosts, who secured the victory in front of 35,000 fans at the Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium.
The supporters turned out in their numbers to watch a team they had missed for months following a post election conflict that broke out in the west African nation, which authorities hoped to reconcile through football, among other actions.
Ivory Coast captain Didier Drogba was made to sit on the bench in the first half as punishment for arriving late to camp; however, fans soon began to call for his entrance when goals were not coming as early as expected.
The lowly Burundi stood firm in front of the onslaught of the home side, despite the cream of European stars on parade. Arsenal’s Gervinho and Chelsea’s Salomon Kalou received a supply of through-balls from Yaya Toure and former Sevilla midfielder Didier Zokora, who wore the captain's armband, but the attackers struggled to find a way past an impregnable Burundian backline.
The first real chance of the 2006 finalists came moments after the half-hour mark when Kalou was released upfront by a long cross from Manchester City’s Kolo Toure, who received a rousing ovation each time he touched the ball following his comeback after a six-month ban. But the Chelsea winger, after meandering past two defenders on the right flank, failed to lay a timely pass for Newcastle’s Cheick Tiote, who was waiting unmarked in the area.
Between diving and defending, the visitors were able to keep the score line blank until the break, as fans began to make a noise to protest the lack of goals.
Drogba came in for Vitesse Arnhem striker Bony Wilfred just after the break, made a conventional sign of the cross to a deafening ovation and quickly preceded to executive a free kick which Burundi goalkeeper Nzokira Jeff easily palmed away.
With no goal still coming their way and the visitors’ confidence growing, coach Francois Zahoui introduced former Lyon midfielder Kader Keita into the fray to reinforce the attack and push the Burundians back into their half.
A restless Gervinho raced down the left flank, cut into the box and rounded a defender before chipping for Kolo Toure, who finished into the back of the net to give the hosts a lead in the 56th minute.
Drogba, who was now omnipresent upfront flanked by two steadfast markers, received a constant service of passes from Yaya Toure and Boka Arthur, but the Chelsea talisman was always dispossessed.
Burundi later stunned the home side with an unexpected equaliser when a ball looped high over the Ivorian defence, who thought the offside flag was rightfully up, as a Burundian player hopped after the ball and hit home his effort in the face of a helpless Barry Copa.
When it looked as though the match was ending in a 1-1 draw, Keita’s last minute corner kick had Yaya Toure rising above everyone and heading home the winner, to send the dispirited fans into fits of excitement.
Already qualified Ivory Coast finished their 2012 Afcon qualifying campaign with a perfect set of six victories, and look ahead to the finals with an increasing appetite.