Togo held defending AFCON champions Ivory Coast to a 0-0 draw on Monday.
The defending champions might have been fancied to begin quickly but the early pace, on a warm and mellow evening in northern Gabon, was sedentary. An opening for Jonathan Kodjia was snuffed out by Togo right-back Serge Gakpe but it was the underdogs, coached by the wily Africa veteran Claude Le Roy, who went on to have the best of the first-half chances.
Fo-Doh Laba prodded a tentative effort wide from a good position, with Emmanuel Adebayor perhaps better placed, and they came even closer in the 29th minute when Mathieu Dossevi, played through by Ihlas Bebou down the inside-left channel, was denied by an excellent, smothering save from Sylvain Gbohouo. Sadat Ouro-Akoriko had a header deflected over amid a flurry of Togo corners just before the break and when the interval arrived, Le Roy’s side couldn’t be happier.
When Ivory Coast came up with a genuine piece of quality in the 55th minute, it should have mattered. Serge Aurier’s whipped cross from the right was begging for an unmarked Kodjia to convert; instead the striker, perhaps taking his eye off the ball, glanced wide when a goal seemed inevitable.
Salomon Kalou sent a free-kick well over from a promising position as the Elephants finally became a consistent threat.
They made the running throughout most of the second half as Togo, appearing to tire, were restricted to counter-attacks although the Sparrow Hawks created a decent chance 13 minutes from time when Bebou Ihlas’ fine cross was met by Lala, who could only guide it over. Gakpe then chipped onto the roof of the net after good work from Adebayor, before Aurier headed a good late chance wide.
The result was fair and perhaps the only shame was that a game so replete with big names was watched by so few fans. Stade de Oyem only looked around a quarter-full
and quite aside from any talk of a boycott from local fans, other factors made it easy to understand why.
Kabanaga wins it for DR Congo
Morocco will feel hard done by following a 1-0 Africa Cup of Nations defeat to Democratic Republic of Congo on Monday night, but ultimately have themselves to blame for not taking their chances.
The Atlas Lions were the dominant side for most of the game, and even played the final 10 minutes with a one-man advantage, but a lack of composure in front of goal – coupled with some fine saves from Ley Matampi – resulted in a first lost in 16 tournament games for coach Herve Renard.
The Leopards looked ragged from the start, but Junior Kabananga’s 55th-minute volley resulted in a spectacular smash-and-grab victory for Florent Ibenge’s men.
Morocco raced out of the blocks and almost netted after just two minutes when El Kaddouri smashed a curling effort onto the crossbar.
Half chances aplenty followed, with Aziz Bouhaddouz especially wasteful with a couple of headers.
DR Congo had to wait until the half-hour mark for their first shot at goal – Charles Mbemba flashing a shot on the turn just past the upright.
The Leopards were better after the break, and were helped in no small way for the only goal thanks to a glaring error from goalkeeper Munir Mohand, who allowed a left-wing cross to slip through his hands and fall to Kabananga, whose acrobatic left-footed volley nestled into the back of the net.
Morocco hit back strong and threatened a number of times, but the closest they came was a long-range effort from El-Nesyri which Matampi saved with his legs.
Even the dismissal of Lomalisa Mutambala with 10 minutes to go for a second bookable offence could help the Atlas Lions, who now need to regroup ahead of a must-win against Togo on Friday.
Information from Kwese Sports were used in this article.