Togo held defending Afcon champions Cote d’Ivoire to a 0-0 draw in their Group C clash on Monday.
All in all, the Ivorians stuttered on a night that did little to suggest they will have a straightforward run to a second-successive Africa Cup of Nations title. Unfancied Togo deserved their goalless draw and increased their own chances of progressing from Group B; this result was hardly a disaster for the Elephants, but they only created a handful of chances against well-drilled and often enterprising opponents. Things must improve in the upcoming games with DR Congo and Morocco.
The defending champions might have been fancied to begin quickly but the early pace, on a warm and mellow evening in northern Gabon, was sedentary. An opening for Jonathan Kodjia was snuffed out by Togo right-back Serge Gakpe but it was the underdogs, coached by the wily Africa veteran Claude Le Roy, who went on to have the best of the first-half chances.
Fo-Doh Laba prodded a tentative effort wide from a good position, with Emmanuel Adebayor perhaps better placed, and they came even closer in the 29th minute when Mathieu Dossevi, played through by Ihlas Bebou down the inside-left channel, was denied by an excellent, smothering save from Sylvain Gbohouo. Sadat Ouro-Akoriko had a header deflected over amid a flurry of Togo corners just before the break and when the interval arrived, Le Roy’s side couldn’t be happier.
When Cote d’Ivoire came up with a genuine piece of quality in the 55th minute, it should have mattered. Serge Aurier’s whipped cross from the right was begging for an unmarked Kodjia to convert; instead the striker, perhaps taking his eye off the ball, glanced wide when a goal seemed inevitable.
Salomon Kalou sent a free kick well over from a promising position as the Elephants finally became a consistent threat.
They made the running throughout most of the second half as Togo, appearing to tire, were restricted to counter-attacks, although the Sparrow Hawks created a decent chance 13 minutes from time when Bebou Ihlas’ fine cross was met by Lala, who could only guide it over. Gakpe then chipped onto the roof of the net after good work from Adebayor, before Aurier headed a good late chance wide.
The result was fair and perhaps the only shame was that a game so replete with big names was watched by so few fans. Stade de Oyem only looked around a quarter full, and quite aside from any talk of a boycott from local fans, other factors made it easy to understand why.
Oyem is a small town of 60,000 people, deep in the jungle, and 300km from the capital city, Libreville. The Chinese-built stadium, shiny and new, sits 18km away and is surrounded by rubble. Like the new airport terminal where visiting journalists landed, many on a plane delayed by four-and-a-half hours, the infrastructure around it is not yet finished. It is hard to see what, and who, the ground will serve in future – a question that mars the matches held here.
By Nick Ames