Last Updated: 22/01/12 6:27pm
Ivory Coast are trying to shift into fifth gear and find the killer blow, Gradel and Keita proving the much-needed boost down the flanks. But despite some fancy footwork and neat interplay, the Elephants' late attacking surge fails to garner the preferred end result.
Another excellent pass from Yaya Toure for Gervinho in the area sees the Arsenal man get his shot on the volley off, but his attempt just flies over the upright. Gervinho has certainly been one of the few stars in the Ivorian lineup today, along with Toure. The same however, can't be said for most of their team-mates in the second half as Tiote leaves the field for Kader Keita.
Drogba's blocked free-kick outside Sudan's area results in a breakout effort from the Hawks, but their forceful effort is quelled by the Ivorian midfield before any real danger can come from the counter-attack. The Falcons will clearly fight to the whistle and give as good as they get.
The Falcons may be behind on the scoreboard but are certainly not playing like a side in awe of the Ivorian juggernaut, the lower ranked side making every effort to find the equalising goal as they string several passages of play together with aplomb. The Elephants look a team completely off the pace and lacking the killer instinct needed to finish off their lesser opponents.
After a first stanza clearly having taken a back-seat to the Ivorians, the Desert Hawks seem to found their swagger and are pushing forward with a sense of purpose and energy. Ivory Coset on the other hand, seem to have gone off the boil and coach Herve Renard has looked to his bench to reinvigorate his team's lacklustre second half showing, Kalou making way for Max Gradel upfront.
A lovely break by Gervinho on the right into the box almost resulted in a 2-0 lead for the Elephants, Yaya Toure's through ball from the edge of the area cutting the Sudanese defence in half to find his speedy team-mate. But the Gunners hitman's shot is half-stopped by Maghoub, the Hawks shot-stopper managing to regather the loose ball on his second take.
The game has entered a bit of a lull as the Ivorians look to slow things down and regain their stranglehold on the game. Kalou had a break down the middle of the park and towards goal, but the striker's shot lacked any real power or direction.
Sudan look to be growing in confidence at the halfway stage in this match-up, the Hawks surging down the flanks and whipping the ball in for Mudather in the box. Some encouraging signs for the Hawks, getting the better of the collisions and have the lion's share of the possession.
Ivory Coast dispossess the Hawks after the restart and look like they definitely won't be resting on their one goal advantage, especially after the almost conceding just before the interval.
Sudan almost hitback immediately as the Hawks get two good chances to level the score, Mohammed Sheikh Eldin and Eltaib Mudather both having cracks at goal with latter striking the crossbar with venom.
And Ivory Coast breath a sigh of relief as their attacking forays finally resulted in a goal, Didier Drogba's well-taken header after his Chelsea team-mate Salomon Kalou's cross from the left providing the breakthrough.
Yaya Toure finds himself in a great attacking position for the Elephants, the big man bringing the ball down well on his chest inside the area from a cross from the left. But for a third time in this match, the attacking midfielder is ruled offside and the Ivorians are starting to show a touch of frustration that their efforts on goal have failed to bear any fruit.
Gervinho is unable to keep his header down in the box, the Ivory Coast number 10 getting up high to a nicely floated ball into the box from Cheick Tiote on the right. A concern for the Elephants was skipper Drogba staying down for a minute or two after taking a knock, but the veteran forward shrugs it off and is up and running again soon after.
Sudan are starting to string a few passes of their own together and, while unsuccessful in getting into the attacking zone and still behind in the possession stakes, will be bouyed their efforts to get under Ivory Coast's skin and put them under a bit of pressure.
Drogba with a fairly innocuous shot outside Sudan's box, the Chelsea striker having to watch as his effort sails wide of goal. While the Elephants' forays into the Falcons' half have yet to dissipate, the wall of Hawks defenders will feel pretty happy with their ability to hold off the wave of attacks.
Elephants fail to make much of their first free-kick opportunity into the box, the ball blocked on the edge of the box. But that's pretty much all the Sudanese side have being doing, keeping Drogba's men at bay. The few times the Hawks have touched the ball, they've been easily dispossessed by their opponents and allow the Elephants to come at them once more.
Sudan's Najem Abdullah is booked for challenge on Gervinho out on the right and will have to be careful for the duration of the encounter.
Gervinho finds himself in a little bit of space on the outskirts of the area and tries his luck from range, but the Arsenal forward's shot is well over the post. Moments later and Didier Drogba has the Elephants fans in the stands on their feet after the hitman receives the ball on the left from Gervinho and cuts into the box. But the linesman's flag is up and the movement is called offside. Ivory Coast are showing their class and superiority and look completely comfortable on the ball.
I hope the ivory coast win today and the whole tournament, they have real pace with gervinho and doumbia, dominant in midfield with yaya toure and beast at the back with kolo toure. I'm going for a 5-0 with a drogba hat trick, cmon ivory coast!!!!! Curtis stephen
Yaya Toure highlights the Elephants attacking urgency in the early stages of this encounter, the Manchester City linchpin making a decent run into the box from the midfield, but once again the Desert Hawks defence is alert to danger and clears the ball in to touch. Ivory Cosat have dominated possession thus far with the defensive line barely troubled.
Ivory Coast get the game underway and are already looking eager to get forward with Gervinho makinga decent run down the right before Sudan's defence gets ahead of him and clears the danger.
Sudan are rated at 11/1 to beat Ivory Coast today according to our friends at Sky Bet, the Desert Hawks also 18/1 to qualify from Group B.
Sudan, meanwhile, have no injury or suspension concerns and coach Mohamed Abdullah has a fully-fit squad to choose from. Hawks veteran Haitham Mustafa will captain the side with fellow 2008 stalwart El Moez Mahjoub looking to keep his first clean sheet in the competition. The Falcons of Jediane are one of the lowest-ranked side in the tournament with a FIFA standing of 113, so an inspired team effort will be needed to overcome their more favoured opponents.
In team news, Cote d'Ivoire will be without the services of Didier Zokora after the defender picked up two yellow cards in qualification and is suspended for his side's opening salvo. The Trabzonspor centre-back's absence is a possible defensive worry for Zahoui, with likely replacement Souleymane Bamba not altogether confident alongside Kolo Toure at the back. Otherwise, the mighty Elephants will rely heavily on the skipper and hitman Didier Drogba, as well the Toure brothers, Kolo and Yaya, to provide the experience, impertinence and structure needed to pick up the win.
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Greetings and welcome to the Nuevo Estadio De Malabo for the African Cup of Nations Group B opener between Cote d'Ivoire and Sudan! Both teams will want to kick off their campaign on a winning note, although it will be a tough ask for the Desert Hawks to overhaul the Elephants, coach Francois Zahoui's side one of the pre-tournament favourites.