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Controversial Kessié penalty makes difference in tight Cote d’Ivoire victory against Malawi

The Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire did just enough to get the three points in Benin by defeating Malawi 2-1 to move back into first place in Group D ahead of Cameroon. Nicolas Pépé scored soon after kick off and AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessié applied the finishing touch to keep the Flames from achieving a surprise result and maintain a one-point lead over the Indomitable Lions. Despite a strong effort over the course of the qualification campaign, Malawi are now eliminated from contention for top spot in the group.

A disastrous start put the visitors behind the pace early on. Malawi defender Peter Cholopi attempted to play a bouncing long ball but whiffed and allowed Arsenal FC attacker Pépé to take the ball and sweep in on goal, curling his finish home past a stranded Brighton Munthali in goal. The early concession was a worst case scenario for the Flames and Ivorian supporters appeared to have little to worry about on the day.

However, the response was excellent from Malawi and they were back in the match before too long. A sequence in the 20th minute saw midfielder Chikoti Chirwa make a couple of strong tackles high in the midfield, with the second playing the ball to forward Khuda Muyaba. The Polokwane City player proceeded to drive forward and unload a hard low shot that found its way past Elephants goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo.

Muyaba’s leveler set off a worrying spell for the Ivorians as Malawi took the game to them. In the 38th minute, Muyaba played a through ball that caused issues, with a retreating Serge Aurier nearly touching the ball around Gbohouo as the keeper advanced out. The ball deflected out and Gbohouo was out of position to stop the subsequent shot attempt from Yamikani Chester, but Aurier covered back and was able to head away off the line.

It was a struggle for the highly talented Ivorian side to wrestle back control of the match and Malawi likely deserved to get at least a point from the match. Fortune would not favor the Flames in the end as veteran Gervinho created an opportunity to bail out the hosts. Isolated on the right wing in the 65th minute, the Trabzonspor forward dribbled at Malawi left back Denis Chembezi and was taken down right at the edge of the penalty area. The foul appeared to perhaps be just outside the box, but the referee awarded a penalty kick to the relief of the Elephants and Kessié made no mistake sending his spot kick high and into the corner.

Ivorian supporters were concerned until the end with Malawi still maintaining a threat. In the 83rd minute awful set piece marking from the hosts led to a Gerald Phiri Jr. free kick service finding Chembezi, with Gbohouo diving to get just enough of the defender’s header to parry the shot off the post and wide. That was the closest the Flames would come to finding a late equalizer and salvaging a point.

Highlights of the match are in the link below as Cote d’Ivoire escape with the full three points.

Highlights from FIFA TV

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