Ivory Coast national team couldn’t make it a home and away win over Gabon in the 2018 Fifa World Cup Group C qualifying following a shock 2-1 loss suffered at the hands of the Panthers in Bouake on Tuesday.
The Gabonese were on top of their game after claiming the lead by a two-goal margin 30 minutes from kick-off, however, the expulsion of a player late in second half doused their momentum and subsequently led to the Ivorians pulling one back.
Both sides kept to their respective squads from the first leg, and it took only few seconds for Ivory Coast to get in the groove, apparently hungrier than their opponents.
Max Gradel was released to the right flank and he quickly outpaced two markers but was dispossessed of the ball before he could shoot.
Tottenham new man Serge Aurier launched a solo counterattack from the right but laid his last ditch cross to the wrong shirt, as Gabon captain Ecuele Manga Brono cleared the danger.
It looked like a one-way traffic by the 15th minute, as balls were flowing more from the Ivorian end to the opposite direction.
Four corner kicks in less than 10 minutes, but without any positive result.
Doumbia Seydou, who pulled off a brace in the reverse fixture, found himself to the left flank after racing down to catch a long cross. He meandered his way through two defenders and connected Aurier, who screwed the beautiful effort.
Gabon stunned the hosts with an ice-cold goal effort, taken in quick succession. Meye Ndong Axel met a right-wing cross from playmaker Lemina Mario and stroked his effort past onrushing goalkeeper Gbohouo Sylvain with confidence to put the visitors ahead by the 19th minute.
The Elephants’ reaction was immediate as a troop of orange shirts besieged the Panthers area. However, after two futile goalmouth scrambles Gabon heaved a sigh of relief when a defender kicked the ball out of play.
By the 29th minute, Gabon made it 2-0 through Lemina Mario, who unleashed a long range effort, 20 yards out that dropped in the Ivorian net.
Ahead of the game, nobody would dare the Gabonese to make this happen here in Bouake. But that is football. Gabon were two goals up by the half hour mark.
A panicky Ivorian team poured men forward in search of a favourable event at least before the break.
Koumba Abdoulaye, Brono and Palun Llyod struggled to contain the Ivorian push that kept cutting in from the wings. Already booked earlier in the game, Llyod received his second yellow after a rough tackle on Gradel and thus left the pitch, leaving 10 men in the fight to preserve their lead which remained unscathed at half time.
Back from the break, the Elephants went underway firing on all cylinders, with Gabon on a huge task of keeping their back half secured as it was in the first stanza.
However, their nervy defending cracked after repeated onslaughts, as second half entrant Gnaly Maxwell Cornet ploughed to the right after displacing his marker in Gabon’s area before dispatching his final effort right on target with unerring cool.
It was 2-1 for Gabon by the 58th minute, and there was ample time for both sides to make meaningful changes to the scoreline, but the frustration was beginning to tell for the home side.
Aurier and Wilfried Kanon kept complaining to the referee for his calls, resulting in a yellow card for the latter.
Ivory Coast coach Marc Wilmots threw two more men into the fray as it now looked they were aiming for a draw. Roger Assale of Swiss side BSC Young Boys came in for Adama Traore while Youan Boli replaced Gradel.
Gabon made three changes as well, and managed to hold their own until the final whistle, as they walked away with their first win of the campaign.
The result means Ivory Coast keep stranglehold of the group with 7 points followed by Morocco on 6 points after they were held to a goalless draw by Mali in Bamako on Tuesday.
Gabon and Mali are on 4 and 2 points respectively.
The penultimate match day is set for early next month, with Ivory Coast taking on Mali while Morocco will host Gabon.