The opening night of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations was owned by Ivory Coast as the host nation beat Guinea-Bissau 2-0.
A packed house at the impressive Alassane Ouattara Stadium welcomed the country’s president, for which the 60,000-seater arena is named after, and FIFA boss Gianni Infantino for a vibrant opening ceremony as a hotly-contested AFCON got underway in the late evening humidity on the outskirts of capital city Abidjan.
Only four minutes into the game, it appeared as though it would be indisputably Les Elephants’ night as Seko Fofana fired into the top corner for the tournament’s first goal.
However, they failed to get on top of Guinea-Bissau and the minnows, ranked outside the world’s top 100, were arguably the better team for much of the first half with slick movement and comfortable possession.
Ivory Coast’s superior talent shone through in short bursts, Fofana rattling the crossbar as goalkeeper Ouparine Djoco produced a superb fingertip stop to deny a carbon copy of the first goal.
Jean-Philippe Krasso needlessly hit the ground in a weak bid to win a penalty late in the half but showed the value of staying on his feet to make it 2-0 shortly before the hour mark.
Jonathan Bamba worked well down the left to find the Crvena Zvezda striker via a weak clearance, and he juggled the ball well up against two defenders before whipping a half-volley into the back of the net.
With the pressure of the opening night visibly lifted from the Ivorians’ shoulders, they attacked with greater pace in search of a third yet Guinea-Bissau substitute Franculino Dju broke through one-on-one to force Yahia Fofana into a strong stop.
Group A continues on Sunday with Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea facing off, before the Super Eagles meet Ivory Coast on Thursday in arguably the most-anticipated game of the group stage.