There couldn't have been much more at stake in Day 8 of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa's Royal Bafokeng Stadium.
With the two winners of the opening fixtures squaring off first, Ivory Coast and Tunisia were fighting for optimal control of Group D, while Togo and Algeria both tried to notch three points to bounce back from crushing defeats.
Here is a breakdown of how Saturday's action shook out.
Ivory Coast 3, Tunisia 0
Gervinho looks like a different player than the one who has had a disappointing stint with his English Premier League club Arsenal.
It started when he notched the game-winner in the 88th minute against Togo in the opener, and Gervinho continued that momentum on Saturday. After several chances for the Elephants early against Tunisia, the winger pounded it in from close range—an indefensible shot past goalkeeper Ben Cherifia.
The goal was preceded by a nifty bit of teamwork, with Gervinho exchanging the ball with Lacina Taore before slamming it into the far corner, just below the crossbar.
FOX Soccer's Grant Wahl provided some humorous commentary on Gervinho's strong form, which hasn't been present with the Gunners:
Maybe Gervinho should consider wearing an Ivory Coast shirt under his Arsenal jersey during Premier League games. Another nice goal.— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) January 26, 2013
Left midfielder Youssef Msakni had a chance for an Eagles equalizer near the beginning of the second half.
Unfortunately, he struck the ball completely backward instead of towards the goal. Tunisia's hero from the previous match couldn’t deliver the magic on this occasion.
Sol Bamba played stellar defense for Ivory Coast, and Boubacar Barry held his ground all match, particularly in stonewalling Saber Khelifa from point-blank range on a chance that would have knotted the score at one apiece.
Current African player of the year and Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure provided insurance at 87’ to make it 2-0. Didier Ya Konan subbed in for Romaric and promptly scored on his first touch of the match in the 90th minute.
The fact that Didier Drogba is still not in full shape is a blessing in disguise for the Elephants moving forward. The prolific scorer will only bring more firepower to the club’s attack as the tournament progresses.
Togo 2, Algeria 0
The two clubs were desperate in facing a must-win scenario in this evening matchup to solidify contention for the knockout phase.
Such circumstances resulted in a gritty, scoreless gridlock in the beginning. Algeria dominated this match in the early going, but the uniquely young squad of capable 20-somethings failed to capitalize on its chances.
That changed when Togo star Emmanuel Adebayor found the net on a low bullet of a strike in the 31st minute off of a header from teammate Moustapha Salifou. This gave the the Sparrow Hawks a 1-0 advantage that they wouldn't relinquish.
Adebayor continues to put on an impressive show as Togo's only true standout player, and he came through when the club needed him most.
But on this day, goalkeeper Kossi Agassa was phenomenal in his own right.
He maintained a clean sheet in the midst of a constant, ruthless assault by the upstart Algerian attack. Agassa was aggressive in snatching the ball out of the air multiple times on corners and remained composed under constant duress.
Just minutes following the opening score by the Sparrow Hawks, he made an outstanding play to deny the Fennec Foxes’ Islam Slimani of the tying goal. The ball would remain in Togo's end for the majority of this fixture, yet the stellar defense and Agassa somehow outfoxed the Greens.
Officiating broke in Togo's favor after a disallowed goal ultimately cost the club its first match against Ivory Coast.
What looked to be a blatant foul at 58' that would have resulted in a penalty kick for Algeria was not called, drawing the ire of the northern African squad.
Countless other shots went awry, and in the closing minutes the Togo goalpost collapsed, which added on 13 minutes of extra time that Algeria still couldn't capitalize on. BBC Radio 5's Will Cooper tweeted his insights into the matter:
The goalpost has fallen apart in the Algeria v Togo #AFCON match. It's the most exciting that's happened all game. Including the goal.— Will Cooper (@willcooper) January 26, 2013
Dove Wome then netted an additional goal for Togo to seal the victory at 90+14'. It was a fitting microcosm of how the frustrating match was for the heavily favored Algerians, who are now officially eliminated from the tournament.
Up Next for Group D
Algeria takes on Ivory Coast and Togo squares off with Tunisia for second place in the group on Wednesday, Jan. 30. Both matches will get underway at 11:50 a.m. ET, and can be viewed on ESPN3's live stream.
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