Gervinho led the Ivory Coast to tight 2-1 victory over Togo in the Africa Cup of Nations on Tuesday at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg. The win momentarily places the Ivory Coast on top of Group D ahead of the second match between Algeria and Tunisia.
A nasty defensive blunder in the Ivorian defense could have allowed Togo to take the lead early in the second minute when Emmanuel Adebayor beat former teammate at Manchester City Kolo Toure to a back pass and found himself facing goalkeeper Copa Barry, but the striker failed to finish.
The Elephants answered six minutes later, when Gervinho meandered through two defenders from the right flank of the box and managed to lay across to Yaya Toure, who struck through a forest of legs into the net to put his side ahead.
Ivory Coast dominated possession with short and sharp passing through the first quarter, but the Sparrow Hawks stood firm to avoid another goal, with defender Vincent Bossou taking good care of Didier Drogba.
The Ivorians chose to use the flanks to cut in to the Togo box when connecting to Drogba became impossible. Gervinho and Saint Etienne’s Max Gradel, as well as former Arsenal player Emmanuel Eboue exchanged positions at the flanks but were always impressively blocked by the opposing rearguard.
Adebayor had another clear chance from the left after outpacing the elder of the two Toure's, but lacked the right inspiration to deliver. Gakpe Serge and Ayite Jonathan were relentless in front of the Ivorian goal and when the former beat Ivorian centre back Souleyman Bamba in a close duel to the right, he lost his balance, hitting wide.
Togo was using long balls to overcome the Ivorian back line, which finally paid off in the added time when the Hawks won a free kick, which was deflected into a corner from which Ayite lobbed to the side of a sprawling Copa to grab a leveller for his side just before the break.
The Ivorians began the second half at a frenetic pace, with Gervinho and Drogba being set up a couple of times but finding no success in front of goal.
The Elephants coach Sabri Lamouchi brought in former Chelsea winger Salomon Kalou and Newcastle’s Cheick Tiote to energize his lacklustre side, as Togo saw a goal disallowed through a corner kick for executing the kick before the whistle.
With no solution for a winner in sight, the Ivorian coach pulled out Drogba for Wilfried Bony of Vitesse Arnhem. Immediately after, Gervinho found himself with a ball and enough space around him to the right edge of the box and was able to adjust before linking Yaya Toure to the middle, who unleashed spontaneously but his effort was too comfortable for Agassa Kossi.
The game delved into a balanced structure, with the ball moving from one end to the other, but with the Ivorians evincing more determination for a second goal.
A free kick from the right found Gervinho deep in the left side of the box. He was able to stroke his effort through a tight angle into the goal with the outside of his foot, to hand Cote d’Ivoire the winner two minutes from full time.
Togo then had their last chance to equalise when Adebayor lobbed a cross over the Ivorian defence for Ayite, who squared for Djene, but Copa intercepted on time with a great stop.
The Elephants become the second team of the tournament after Mali to bag three points from their first match.
Follow GOAL.COM on Twitter