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Saturday, January 31, 2015  

Gervinho earns Ivory Coast win
JOHANNESBURG Gervinho bagged a brace and Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure were yellow carded as Ivory Coast flexed their muscles with a 4-2 win over Egypt four days before the Africa Cup of Nations kicks off.

The title favourites recovered from falling behind midway through the first half at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi to lead by two goals early in the second half, but needed a late Didier Ya Konan goal to seal success.

Lanky Lacina Traore, sporting an orange mohawk haircut, was the other scorer for the Ivorian Elephants while Mohamed Aboutrika and Mohamed “Gedo” Nagy were on target for non-qualifiers Egypt in a free-flowing game.

It was the only warm-up for the Elephants before they face Togo on January 22 in Group D -- labelled the group of death with former champions Algeria and Tunisia the other contenders for two quarterfinals places.

Ivory Coast last played two months ago -- whipping Austria 3-0 in Linz -- and there were some cobwebs visible with poorly-timed runs leading to nine offside calls while Boubacar Barry let a shot slip between his legs for a goal.

Drogba was booked for kicking the ball away after one offside decision and reigning African Footballer of the Year Toure for a late tackle, with his subsequent anger culminating in a tug of the referee’s shirt.

Ivory Coast are heading for South Africa desperate to shed the “chokers” tag they have earned by failing to justify favouritism in the past four tournaments with two final losses after penalty shootouts the closest they came.

Although Egypt have won the Cup of Nations a record seven times, they failed to make the latest edition of the African football showcase, losing 4-3 overall to the Central African Republic in the first qualifying round.

Angola stretched to five matches an unbeaten run in warm-ups by defeating neighbours Botswana 2-0 at Dobsonville Stadium in Soweto through goals from Liechtenstein-based Guilherme Afonso and captain Manucho.

The Black Antelopes drew with Gambia and beat Rwanda and Cameroon at home last month and overcame defending champions Zambia in Soweto -- encouraging results ahead of Group A dates with Morocco, South Africa and Cape Verde.

Fears that Morocco playmaker Younes Belhanda from French champions Montpellier would miss the 22-day championship through injury were allayed after a suspected serious muscle tear turned out to be only a slight strain.

Belhanda is a key figure as the Atlas Lions seek a first African title since 1976 after recently appointed coach Rachid Taoussi ignored Adel Taarabt from English Premier League strugglers QPR and Qatar-based Houssine Kharja.

The happiness of Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah after impressive warm-up victories over Egypt (3-0) and Tunisia (4-2) in Abu Dhabi was diluted when his post-match injury list rose to four stars.

Agence France-Presse
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