Cote D’Ivoire came from behind to claim a 2-1 win over Sierra Leone at the Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium on Saturday in Abidjan, in a Group D second match of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying group stage.
Highly favoured, the Ivorians were stunned by the visitors who opened the scoring in the 10th minute and held the lead across the first half.
The Elephants new coach Herve Renard handed the captain's armband to Yaya Toure while making home based lad Franck Kessie, defender of Stella Club, don Didier Drogba’s shirt number 11 in the team’s first outing since their 2014 World Cup campaign.
Cote D’Ivoire quickly laid siege to Sierra Leone’s area in the first quarter, but created few genuine chances to break the deadlock as the Leone Stars gradually built their confidence and settled their play, characterised by a number of breakaway counteractions that the Ivorian defence stood up to.
After a couple of futile attempts to cut into the Sierra Leone box from the left flank, Gervinho switched to the right, leaving the angle for Salomon Kalou, but the Hertha Berlin new signing was also unable to hurdle defenders Khaliffa Jabbie and Mustapha Dumbuya to lay it on for the Orange shirts waiting in the area.
The rhythm remained unchanged after the half hour mark, with the Ivorians still pushing and the Leone Stars still striving to keep the star-studded side at bay. Kalou fluffed a great chance by the 35th minute when he was linked up by a low right wing cross from Max Gradel, and with just the goalkeeper Solomon Zombo to beat in the box, the former Chelsea player flicked his last ditch effort over the bar.
Sierra Leone’s reaction came 10 minutes after following a rapid surge into the Ivorian area, with Georges Davies racing down the left side and laying a cross into the box, and connecting Kei Kamara who was strangely unmarked. The former Middlesbrough FC forward chipped his effort to the side of Copa Barry to put the visitors ahead.
The Leone Stars returned from the break in combative mood to conserve their slim lead but were forced to fight from their back half as the Ivorians desperately poured forth in search of a leveller.
With time running out for the home side, coach Renard introduced CSKA Moscow’s Seydou Doumbia into the fray after pulling off the injured Kalou. The change brought some impressive action upfield for the Elephants, with interplay between Doumbia and Gervinho destabilising the hitherto steadfast Sierra Leonean defence.
Cote D’Ivoire maintained their frenetic pace until after the hour mark when a long cross from midfield towards Sierra Leone box found Doumbia, who headed home his effort to even the scoreline in the 64th minute.
Two minutes later, Gervinho handed his side the lead after dribbling his way to the right edge before driving a low effort inside the back of the net.
Sierra Leone continued to show a strong drive in an attempt to get back in the game, but neither side would find the net until the final whistle.
Renard could heave a sigh of relief, however small the margin of his victory over a team many locals had believed the Elephants would crush. A loss in his first outing with the team would have been a disaster for the Frenchman, whom the local media suggest could be the messiah for the underachieving Ivorian outfit.
Cote D’Ivoire will face Cameroon next in the second match day while Sierra Leone will host DR Congo who lost at home 2-0 to the Indomitable Lions.