Africa Cup of Nations: Lethal Max Gradel gives Ivory Coast 1-0 victory over Equatorial Guinea 0

Ivory Coast reminded everyone why they were favourites to win the Africa Cup of Nations when they beat Equatorial Guinea on Wednesday with a sterling Max Gradel goal in the sixth minute. Equatorial Guinea were hard to break down for the rest of the match, but Ivory Coast never looked in danger of throwing away their lead.

It was a brilliantly ruthless strike from Gradel that put Ivory Coast ahead – he reacted in a split-second when sloppy defending gave him the ball on the edge of the box, smashing a piledriver into the back of the net.

Ivory Coast didn’t look back. Equatorial Guinea were pertinacious – getting men back effectively and constantly attempting to counter-attack. But Ivory Coast kept pulling together beautiful strings of midfield passes and frequently converted them into attacking menace with darting runs towards the box.

They have long been one of the most impressive African national teams – boasting one of the continent’s greatest players of all time, Chelsea striker Didier Drogba, and winning CAN in 1992 and 2015.

Drogba is long gone – as are most of the players who won that Africa Cup of Nations trophy six years ago, such as Yaya Touré and Kolo Touré. But fresh talent has poured in to the Ivory Coast ranks. In addition to Gradel, they have Sébastian Haller, the Champions League top scorer so far this season, and Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha, one of the Premier League’s best strikers.

Source: France 24