The Ivory Coast snatched a 2-1 win over Togo Gervinho’s 88th-minute goal at the Africa Cup of Nations on Tuesday.
A nasty defensive blunder could have allowed Togo to take the lead as early as the second minute when Emmanuel Adebayor beat his former Manchester City team-mate Kolo Toure to a back pass and found himself facing goalkeeper Copa Barry, but the Spurs forward failed to seize the opportunity.
Ivory Coast made Togo pay for the miss six minutes later, when Gervinho beat two defenders from the right flank and managed to lay the ball of to Yaya Toure, who struck through a forest to put his side 1-0 ahead at Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg.
Ivory Coast, beaten finalists against Zambia in last season’s competition, dominated possession with short and sharp passing but the Sparrow Hawks stood firm, with defender Vincent Bossou marshalling Didier Drogba.
As the half wore on, Gervinho picked a loose ball, surged down the flank and cut inside the Togo box before cutting back to onrushing Yaya Toure, who crashed his effort against the crossbar, missing a genuine chance to make it 2-0 with five minutes left in the half.
In first-half injury time, Togo’s Jonathan Ayite bundled home a free-kick past the sprawling Copa to see the two teams go in level at the break.
Seeking to restore their advantage, Ivory Coast began the second half at a frenetic pace, with Gervinho and Drogba both spurning chances.
The Elephants’ coach Sabri Lamouchi brought in former Chelsea winger Salomon Kalou and Newcastle’s Cheick Tiote to energize his lacklustre side, as Togo saw a goal disallowed from a corner kick for taking the kick before the referee had blown his whistle.
With time running out and no sign of the decisive goal arriving, Lamouchi replaced veteran Drogba with the Eredivisie top scorer, Wilfried Bony of Vitesse Arnhem.
Immediately after the change, Gervinho found himself with time and space inside the area, setting up Yaya Toure, who shot straight at Agassa Kossi.
It looked as if Togo would hold out for a valuable draw, only for Arsenal man Gervinho to score from a tight angle with two minutes to go in normal time.
Togo also had their last chance to equalize when Adebayor lobbed a cross over the Ivorian defence for Ayite, who squared for Dakonam Djene, but Copa intercepted.
The Ivory Coast became the second team after Mali to record a win in the 2013 tournament.