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Gradel’s moment of brilliance helps Ivory Coast hold off eager Equatorial Guinea

Ivory Coast moved to the top of Group E at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations following their 1-0 win over Equatorial Guinea on Wednesday. An unstoppable strike from distance by Ivorian captain Max Gradel put the Elephants up before the favorites held off a furious charge from an inspired Equatorial Guinea side. The Ivorians are two points ahead of Algeria and Sierra Leone following their 0-0 draw on Tuesday.

Gradel’s goal came soon after the opening whistle when he found the net in the 5th minute. The 34-year-old attempted to sneak a pass into the Equatoguinean penalty area and the ball ricocheted off a couple of defenders before rolling back out to Gradel at the edge of the area, who blasted the ball first-time past a stunned Manuel Sapunga in goal.

It appeared that the high powered Ivorian squad would surge on to a routine victory, but Equatorial Guinea had other ideas. The Nzalang Nacional got to work and began to generate opportunities at a regular rate. Ivory Coast defender Eric Bailly had to scramble back for an important block when Dorian Junior got behind for a look on goal. Just after the 38 minute mark, an aerial ball into the Ivorian penalty area was headed towards goal by Emilio Nsue and went off center back Simon Deli’s hand. However, the Video Assistant Referee did not intervene for the possibility of a penalty kick.

Equatorial Guinea appeared to have their well earned equalizer in the 50th minute when dangerous attacking left back Basilio Ndong put in a teasing cross. Deli did brilliantly to recover and get enough of a touch on the ball to throw Nsue off as he waited to finish. Nsue got behind the defense in the 63rd minute but his shot was too weak to bother Ivorian keeper Badra Ali Sangaré, who also saw a couple of well hit long range efforts go wide in the final half hour.

In the end, Ivory Coast were fortunate to hold on for the full three points. Substitute Nicolas Pepe had a couple of excellent chances to double his team’s lead but failed to find the target, his miss after an excellent run from left back Ghislain Konan particularly poor. The Ivorians will need to improve if they want to edge out Algeria for top spot in Group F, but credit must be given to a tough Equatoguinean side that will next try their shot at the highly fancied Algerians on Sunday.

Highlights of the match are below.

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