A brace from Ajax striker Sebastien Haller helped the Elephants of Ivory Coast return to form in FIFA World Cup qualifying with Monday’s 2-1 home victory over Cameroon. The Ivorians move up to first place in Group D with Mozambique and Malawi set to play on Tuesday, boosting their point total to four as the Indomitable Lions remain on three points.
The atmosphere was a combination of nervousness and festivity with fans allowed into the Stade Olympique Alassane Ouattara in Abidjan. While the home crowd boosted the Ivorian team, there was plenty of expectation following the team’s disappointing 0-0 draw in Maputo against Mozambique. However, the Elephants responded in force with an assured performance for the majority of the ninety minutes.
It all went wrong for the Indomitable Lions during a ten minute stretch in the first half. In the 18th minute a shot attempt from a direct free kick by Jean-Michael Seri deflected off the wall, but the referee called a handball and awarded a penalty kick because the ball went off Cameroon striker Vincent Aboubakar’s arm as he turned in the wall. Haller stepped up and sent keeper Devis Epassy the wrong way for the opening goal.
Soon after the Ivorians found their second goal. In the 29th minute, Jean Evrard Kouassi played an excellent ball through and Haller beat center back Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui to the ball before unleashing a sublime finish low inside Epassy’s far post. The second strike was an accurate reflection of a first half where Ivory Coast played inspired football and brought the necessary intensity to obtain the result.
The hosts were in firm control of the match, but a bit of doubt crept in during the second half. In the 59th minute, Cameroon striker Karl Toko Ekambi took a shot that was deflected high into the air. As Toko Ekambi leapt up to try and get a touch on the ball in the Ivorian penalty area, Elephants center back Eric Bailly kept his boot high as he challenged and the referee was quick to point to the penalty spot. Moumi Ngamaleu calmly sent Ivorian keeper Sylvain Gbohouo the wrong way to cut the deficit in half.
However, a comeback was not meant to be despite the brief spell of positive momentum for Cameroon. Ivory Coast took control back and should have increased their lead as Seri curled a free kick off the crossbar and substitute Christian Kouame failed to convert a one on one with Epassy, but there was little doubt about who deserved the three points.
Highlights of the match are in the link below.