Two time African Champions Ivory Coast claimed a hard-fought 1-0 win over Niger in the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in Abidjan on Saturday.
Led by Tottenham right-back Serge Aurier, the Elephants didn’t have an easy ride like many pundits predicted and had to even toil to contain the Mena, who played with utmost determination.
After surviving the hosts’ early domination that yielded no meaningful result, Niger forced their play and balanced the game, with each side sharing almost equally the goal chances from the goalless first half.
Niger goalkeeper was the hero of the first stanza, as he pulled off countless saves to the admiration of all at the Felix Houphouet Boigny stadium.
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He notably thwarted Ivory Coast’s chance of claiming the opener by blocking Max Gradel’s penalty in the 32nd minute.
The hosts resumed the second half in high pace but their efforts in Niger’s goalmouth kept failing against the hermetic defence.
In the 68nd minute, a Niger player handled the ball in the box to hand Ivory Coast their second lifeline of the evening, with AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie transforming to break the deadlock.
Niger launched several offensives to pull level but the home side kept their lead unscathed until the final whistle.
Ivory Coast, who are now second in Group K on tie at three points with Madagascar, will face Ethiopia next while Niger will host Barea.