Cup of Nations prove quick on the draw

Malabo, Equatorial Guinea: The Ivory Coast again needed a late Max-Alain Gradel goal just to earn a draw at the Africa Cup of Nations on Saturday, while Cameroon were held by Guinea in the tightest group in the competition.

The Ivorians drew 1-1 with Mali before Cameroon and Guinea drew by the same scoreline in Malabo in Group D, which has now seen four matches all end one apiece and will go right down to the wire.

With star forward Gervinho missing due to suspension after being sent off in the opening stalemate with Guinea, Herve Renard’s Elephants fell behind at the Estadio de Malabo in the seventh minute of an eventful west African derby through one of the goals of the tournament so far.

Sambou Yatabare hung a cross from the right flank to the back post, where Wolverhampton Wanderers winger Bakary Sako connected with a sweet half-volley that flew into the net.

In an effort to turn the game around, Renard sent on Gradel for his Saint-Etienne colleague Ismael Diomande before the interval, and it was the little winger who eventually rescued his side.

Only four minutes remained when Salomon Kalou and Serge Aurier combined to set up Gradel, who slotted low past Mali’s substitute goalkeeper Germain Berthe, on for the injured Soumaila Diakite.

“There were lots more good things today than in the first match but unfortunately we went behind early on,” lamented Renard.

Mali had lost every previous meeting with the Ivory Coast at the Cup of Nations, including in the 2012 semi-finals, but the Eagles still saw the draw as a missed opportunity.

“We are very disappointed that, for the second time in a row, we have conceded a goal at the end of the match,” said the Eagles’ Polish coach Henryk Kasperczak, who took the Ivorians to third place at the 1994 Cup of Nations.

Cameroon came from behind to draw with Mali in their opening game, but against Guinea on Saturday it was the Indomitable Lions who struck first.

Benjamin Moukandjo’s corner went straight into the net to open the scoring on 13 minutes, but a marvellous finish by Ibrahima Traore, arrowed low into the far corner of the net, brought Guinea level just before the break.

Afterwards, Borussia Moenchengladbach winger Traore, who has now won two man of the match awards in as many games, revealed his confidence that previously unfancied Guinea will qualify for the last eight.

“I’m pretty sure that we will qualify because we have the quality and we fear nobody. So now it’s time to win this game against Mali and do something good for the country,” he said.

With a decisive game against the Ivory Coast to come, Cameroon forward Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting warned: “Now it’s the last match that counts. We came here to win of course, but we are building a new team.”

Remarkably, with all 16 teams having played two group games, nobody has yet managed to qualify for the quarter-finals of what is proving to be one of the tightest Nations Cups in memory.

Algeria are the only team to have scored more than twice in a game, doing so in their opening 3-1 win over South Africa in Group C.