JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – Ivory Coast needed two penalties to defeat Niger 1-0 early yesterday in the last matchday one qualifier for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon.
Max-Alain Gradel missed the first spot-kick during the opening half after grabbing the ball from Arsenal forward Nicolas Pepe, who won the penalty and wanted to take it.
Out-of-favour AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie was entrusted with the second spot-kick, awarded for handball midway through the second half.
Niger goalkeeper Kassaly Daouda, who had brilliantly foiled Gradel, could not do it again, going the wrong way as Kessie planted the ball in the left corner. It was an unconvincing performance by the 1992 and 2015 African champions, given they are ranked 51 places above Niger.
Niger were playing for the first time under Frenchman Jean-Guy Wallemme who was only appointed last week.
Ivory Coast share first place in Group K with Madagascar, who beat Ethiopia 1-0 in Antananarivo thanks to a first half goal from Rayan Raveloson.
The Malagasy team were the surprise package of the 2019 Cup of Nations in Egypt, stunning Nigeria and surprising the Democratic Republic of Congo before losing to Tunisia in the quarter-finals.
Coach Nicolas Dupuis, who combines coaching Madagascar with managing a French lower league club, was rewarded with a new four-year contract. He was satisfied with the tentative performance against Ethiopia given the poor state of the national stadium pitch and limited preparations.
“We need a new venue because the pitch we used today was unplayable,” said the 51-year-old.