RUSTENBURG, South Africa (Reuters) - Late goals from Ivory Coast forward Gervinho and Tunisia winger Youssef Msakni earned wins over Togo and Algeria respectively as Group D got underway at the African Nations Cup on Tuesday.
Gervinho sealed victory for the tournament favourites with an 88th minute strike from a tight angle to give Ivory Coast a 2-1 win over a stubborn Togo side.
Msakni left it even later by netting in stoppage time to give Tunisia a 1-0 win over north African rivals Algeria.
Five of the eight games so far have ended in draws and the other three have all had late winners - Seidou Keita scoring for Mali in the 84th for a 1-0 victory over Niger on Sunday.
While the results of Tuesday’s games at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace mean Ivory Coast and Tunisia are level on points at the top of Group D, they won in contrasting ways.
Ivory Coast won an entertaining game with Togo while Tunisia and Algeria never looked like scoring until Msakni’s produced a touch of class with a superb curling shot from 20 metres.
The one thing both winning teams had in common was that they did not play particularly well.
Ivory Coast, whose exalted generation of players like Didier Drogba, Kolo Toure, Didier Zokora and Emmanuel Eboue are making one last realistic attempt to win the trophy that has eluded their country since 1992, made errors and looked out of sorts.
Skipper Drogba, 34, desperate to add the African title to the Champions League and Premier League crowns he won during his eight-year spell at Chelsea, gave a less than commanding performance up front and was substituted 16 minutes from time.
“It was a tough game but we expected that,” he said. “Togo gave us a good fight but we also made a lot of mistakes and this is something we can change in the next games. Still 2-1 for us is a great win even if it was difficult.”
Ivory Coast have been favourites at the last four editions and have failed to live up to expectations every time, losing on penalty shootouts in the 2006 and 2012 finals.
However, they did show one steely quality needed by all potential champions on Tuesday - the ability to win when they have not played at their best.
“I was expecting something better from us,” said coach Sabri Lamouchi, echoing Drogba’s sentiments. “It wasn’t our best performance. ”I thought the first match was going to be difficult but it was much harder than I envisaged.
“Although we made too many mistakes I am happy with the way (we played), and (we) can only improve as we go on.”
Togo should have led after two minutes when captain Emmanuel Adebayor, a long-time rival of Drogba’s for club and country, had a great chance after seizing on a poor pass back from his former Arsenal and Manchester City team mate Kolo Toure.
However, instead of shooting when he had the chance, Adebayor attempted to round goalkeeper Boubacar Barry, who managed to tip the ball away from the lanky striker.
Adebayor admitted he should have been more decisive, which is exactly what Kolo’s brother Yaya was when he thumped in Ivory Coast’s opener after eight minutes.
Although Jonathan Ayite plundered a Togo equaliser in first-half stoppage time when the Ivorian defence failed to clear a corner, they could not hold on for a point.
The only minor controversy in a hard-fought game came midway through the second half when Togo’s Dare Nibombe headed in a corner, but the goal was disallowed because the Cameroonian referee said the corner was taken before he blew the whistle.
No-one appeared too bothered at the time but Togo coach Didier Six was furious afterwards, storming out of his scheduled news conference after saying only that his team deserved better.
“The rules weren’t respected,” the Frenchman said.
The second match was heading after Algeria and Tunisia had cancelled each other out for almost the entire match.
Before Msakni’s decisive strike for Tunisia, the nearest either side had come to a goal was when Algeria’s Islam Slimani headed against the bar in the first half.
Wednesday marks the start of the second round of group phase games with hosts South Africa playing Angola and Morocco facing Cape Verde in Group A at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.
That section is finely balanced with all four teams on one point after the two goalless draws in Johannesburg on Saturday.
Reporting by Mike Collett; Editing by Ken Ferris