Ivory Coast 1-1 Mali: Gradel spares the Elephants' blushes
Image Credit: AP

A brilliant early strike from Bakary Sako gave Mali a surprise early lead and they looked like they would hold on until substitute Max Gradel equalised for Ivory Coast in the 86th minute. Gradel's goal extended the Ivorians unbeaten run in the group stages which now stands at 9 years.

It was all still to play for in today’s game after draws in both of Group C’s match day 1 ties but Ivory Coast were at a slight disadvantage thanks to the stupidity of Gervinho. The Roma attacker was sent off for slapping Naby Keïta in the face although his team still managed to fight back and win a point. Mohamed Yattara gave Guinea the lead before Wilfried Bony set up Seydou Doumbia for the equaliser.

Mali were quite unlucky to be coming into this game with only a point because they took the lead in their game through Sambou Yatabaré before Cameroon grabbed a late equaliser thanks to Ambroise Oyongo. Ivory Coast made 3 changes for today’s game, Gervinho of course wasn’t involved but Salomon Kalou and Serey Die were also dropped from the starting line-up. Siaka Tiéné, Seydou Doumbia and Ismael Diomandé replaced them. Mali coach Henryk Kasperczak decided no changes were need for this game.

Mali couldn’t have got off to a much better start with Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Sako giving them the lead in the 6th minute with a superb strike. Sambou Yatabaré crossed from deep and the ball found its way to the other side of the box where Sako was running in. He hit on the half volley with a bicycle kick and the ball flew into the opposite corner.

After this both sides struggled to create and up until the 20th minute neither side could come up with any opportunities whatsoever. At this point Serge Aurier was fouled on the right hand side by Adama Tamboura. Yaya Toure overhit the free kick but Tiéné managed to head the ball back across before Aurier headed over. One of the Ivory Coast’s best chances to equalise in the first half fell to Doumbia after Tiéné crossed for Bony who headed into the path of the CSKA striker but he could only fire wide under pressure.

Then the Elephants had a legitimate penalty shout turned down when Bony displayed incredible skill nutmegging Molla Wagué before the Mali defender fell into the path of the Manchester City striker and brought him down. However, referee Bouchaib El Ahrach waved it away and the game continued much to the frustration of manager Herve Renard.

In the 38th minute there was quite an unusual occurrence, an indirect free kick for a back pass. Eric Bertrand thought he was allowed to lift the ball with his foot before heading it back but the referee correctly blew the whistle. Sako took the free kick but Gradel, who had only just come on for Diomandé, blocked it in the last real action of the first half.

The Ivorians created more opportunities at the start of the second half, Doumbia had a shot blocked before Gradel chipped the ball to Bony but he headed wide. Tamboura was then booked for Mali after he committed a foul on Aurier who was a constant threat down the right hand side with his delivery. The game then suffered a significant delay after Mali keeper Soumbeïla Diakité went down injured twice. There was a delay in getting the medical staff and stretcher out to him and his replacement, Germain Berthé, took his time getting ready which greatly angered the Ivorians.

The Elephants finally got their equaliser in the 86th minute with Max Gradel finishing off their best move of the game. Aurier got the ball on the right hand side and ran forward before pulling it back across goal for the Saint-Étienne man who made no mistake. He fired just inside the far post and Berthé couldn’t keep it out although he did manage to get a hand to it.

That was the last chance of the game as yet another match in this tournament finished with both teams sharing the points, that’s 7 draws in 13 games. Even if Cameroon or Guinea win later, Group C can be described in exactly the same way as it was before this game, with everything still to play for.