Gervinho's Recent Form Solidifies Ivory Coast as Africa Cup of Nations Contender

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIJanuary 26, 2013

RUSTENBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JANUARY 22: Alaixys Romoa of Togo and Yao Gervinho of Ivory Coast during the 2013 Orange African Cup of Nations match between Ivory Coast and Togo from Royal Bafokeng Stadium on January 22, 2012 in Rustenburg, South Africa. (Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images)
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Ivory Coast striker Gervinho has been on a tear in the first two matches of Group D play in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. With two goals in as many matches, including both ultimate game winners, the 25-year-old has solidified the Elephants as a legitimate contender for the trophy.

The embattled scorer's emergence isn't completely surprising, since he was a solid contributor on last year's runner-up team.

However, his immense struggles with his English Premier League club Arsenal and a costly misfire in the 2012 Cup of Nations final against Zimbabwe planted seeds of doubt about the talented attacker.

But somebody needed to step up for the Ivory Coast national football team since all-time leading scorer Didier Drogba hasn't quite been himself. That was especially the case on Saturday, as Drogba was benched to start the match for the first time in his career.

After scoring the deciding goal against Togo in the opener, Gervinho scored his second straight goal for his country in the 21st minute, firing an unstoppable shot into the far, top corner of the net, getting the Elephants on the board early against Tunisia.

Dan Walker, host of the BBC's Football Focus, poked fun at Gervinho's sudden explosion as compared to his lackluster play in the EPL:

I'm hearing reports that Gervinho has actually scored a goal. There are witnesses & everything #acon

— Dan Walker (@mrdanwalker) January 26, 2013

The goal proved to be enough, though, as the Elephants were able to stave off the Eagles of Carthage and add two more goals late to cap off a 3-0 triumph. Thanks to Algeria's loss in the subsequent match against Togo, Ivory Coast is the first squad through to the quarterfinals.

This return to form for Gervinho is an extremely encouraging recent trend, as he has seemed to put behind the disappointment in this tournament last year at least for the moment.

Gervinho's hot streak also afforded Drogba a valuable opportunity to rest until the 68th minute of Saturday's fixture.

And the best part about this development is that the match with Algeria this coming Wednesday will not mean anything in Group D, but will provide the Elephants with a terse test in facing a very young, talented squad eager to notch at least one point since being heavily favored to win the group.

If Gervinho can keep getting closer to aligning his potential with his actual performance on the field, the Ivory Coast attack will be too much for opponents to overcome.

But what if Drogba returns to his typical, dominant self? All the better.

The highly versatile Yaya Toure also has two goals in the group stage, and he and Gervinho form a formidable tandem on the attack that will need to continue producing for the Elephants to return to the finals.

It appears as though Gervinho is determined to redeem what has been a recently disappointing stretch to his young, promising career. Look for him to continue playing well and to be a key reason that Ivory Coast makes another deep run in the Cup of Nations.