Ivory Coast found their stride after halftime to prevail over Zambia on Friday in 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying, defeating the Chipolopolo 3-1 through goals from Serge Aurier, Christian Kouamé and Ibrahim Sangaré. Patson Daka provided a late consolation for the visitors who will look to earn their first points in an important Group H matchup at home against Comoros. Ivory Coast, already qualified as hosts, will travel to South Africa for their next match against Lesotho.
A talented Zambia side proved to be a stingy opponent early on, neutralizing a sputtering Ivorian attack in the first half while not providing too much of a threat with their skilled attack. Ivorian playmaker Max Gradel came closest to putting the Elephants in the lead on two occasions. In the 27th minute striker Sebastien Haller provided a low cross that ended with a Gradel shot from distance that was saved by Zambia keeper Toaster Nsabata but Nsabata could only watch when Ghislain Konan picked Gradel out for a close range volley that thundered off the crossbar.
It was more of the same at the start of the second half with the visitors making two halftime substitutions and venturing forward more in an attempt to get forwards Daka and Fashion Sakala involved. Eventually though the hosts made their breakthrough in the 67th minute when a short corner kick from substitute Wilfried Zaha came to Gradel, whose near post cross was flicked on by Jean Evrard Kouassi to a wide open Aurier at the far post for an easy finish.
Gradel nearly picked out the corner of Nsabata’s goal on a 76th minute free kick but after the goalkeeper pushed it wide, Gradel’s subsequent corner kick found a leaping Kouamé for a perfectly placed header to double the lead. Just before second half stoppage time the hosts put the match out of reach courtesy of a first time finish from Sangaré off a Kouassi cross. While attempting to pass away the remainder of stoppage time a giveaway led to Zambia’s breakthrough when Daka set up an open shot for Sakala and followed up for the rebound after his strike partner’s effort was saved.
Highlights from Yamoussoukro are below.