MALABO, Equatorial Guinea (AFP) – Group D favourites Cameroon and the Ivory Coast breathed a sigh of relief on Tuesday as both came from behind to draw their opening matches at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea.
A goal down and a man down against Guinea after the sending-off of Gervinho, the Ivorians had substitute Seydou Doumbia to thank for salvaging a point from a 1-1 draw in the first game of the day at the Estadio de Malabo.
And later the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon came from behind to draw 1-1 with Mali as Ambroise Oyongo cancelled out Sambou Yatabare’s second-half opener to leave Group D perfectly poised ahead of the second round of matches.
Elephants’ coach Herve Renard has been quick to play down his side’s chances of winning the continental crown for the first time since 1992, and things looked bleak for them after an hour of an entertaining encounter with their west African neighbours.
Guinea took the lead eight minutes before the interval when Lyon striker Mohamed Yattara lashed the ball high into the roof of the net after the Ivory Coast defence made a mess of dealing with a hanging cross from the Syli Nationale’s stand-in skipper Ibrahima Traore.
Gervinho, who had been the Ivorians’ most enterprising player and hit the woodwork in the first half, then saw red just before the hour mark after a clash in the Guinea box which left the impressive Naby Keita on the ground.
Traore then crashed a shot against the bar for Guinea, before substitute Doumbia, of CSKA Moscow, came on to equalise 18 minutes from time after linking up with Wilfried Bony.
“If it was before the game we wouldn’t be happy with this result. In the first half we weren’t fantastic but should have been in front from two chances for Gervinho. Then we lost a goal from an error of communication,” said Renard.
“We pushed forward and then Gervinho was sent off. We had to react, but even at 10 against 11 we could have gone on to win the game.”
His opposite number and fellow Frenchman Michel Dussuyer remarked: “In the end we’re a bit frustrated because we let the game go at a time when we were in control of events.”
The Estadio de Malabo had been some way short of full during the first game of Tuesday’s double-header, but by time kick-off arrived between Cameroon and Mali, there was not an empty seat to be found, and indeed many fans were forced to gather in gangways to try and catch a glimpse of the action.
They saw a game that came to life in the closing stages, with Sambou Yatabare controlling and volleying home at the back post after a free-kick had been flicked on 19 minutes from time.
It was not enough for Mali to win the game, however, as right-back Oyongo, of MLS outfit New York Red Bulls, latched onto Raoul Loe’s high ball and equalised with only six minutes left.
Sambou Yatabare had what would have been a stoppage-time winner for Mali disallowed because of offside, but the Eagles’ Polish coach Henryk Kasperczak was nevertheless content with his side’s display.
“It was a very complete performance, with intensity and a good rhythm. We played quality football against a Cameroon team whose own qualities we are well aware of,” he said.