Togo hold champions, Cote d’Ivoire

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Togo’s midfielder Floyd Ayite (L) challenges Ivory Coast’s midfielder Cheick Doukoure during the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations group C football match between Ivory Coast and Togo in Oyem on January 16, 2017. PHOTO: ISSOUF SANOGO / AFP

On paper, Togo stood no chance against star-studded Cote d’Ivoire, but the Emmanuel Adebayor-inspired Sparrowhawks held their own against the favourites in one of the dullest games played since the Gabon 2017 African Nations Cup kicked off on Saturday.

Even without the retired Yaya Toure and injured Gervinho, Cote d’Ivoire on paper dwarfed Togo in the quality of players available for yesterday’s game.

The presence of Englishman turned Ivoirian, Wilfred Zaha, was expected to add to the Elephant’s firepower, which it did, but only as far as creating anxious moments for the fans while he lasted on the pitch.

With Manchester United’s Eric Bailly at the back, Chelsea target Franck Kessie in midfield, Wilfried Zaha on the wing, PSG’s Serge Aurier in defence and Aston Villa’s Jonathan Kodjia keeping Wilfried Bony out of the starting line up, Cote d’Ivoire have all the tools to retain the title they won in Equatorial Guinea two years ago.

But they made hard work of a Togo side still led by a clubless Emmanuel Adebayor, playing a forward, Serge Gakpe, at right back, and with Fulham’s Floyd Ayite as the main man in central midfield.

Zaha was Cote d’Ivoire’s most dangerous player, but they lacked any fluency.

The Elephants were at their most threatening when Kessie, a wonderful talent aged just 20, drifted to the right to combine with Zaha and the overlapping Serge Aurier, but those moments were all too rare.

The one time Zaha did get space and time, he cut in from the right and drove to the six-yard box, but his shot was blocked. The Palace man was replaced by Bony soon after.

In truth it was the Sparrowhawks who created more for much of the game, though Bailly marshalled the defence well enough to prevent too many clear-cut opportunities.

Meanwhile, Joel Matip, could be unavailable for Liverpool until February 10 as a result of the Anfield side’s ongoing dispute with Cameroun over the defender’s international availability.

Matip featured for the Indomitable Lions at the World Cup in 2014 but has since refused call-ups to his national team, effectively retiring from international duty.

Cameroun, however, argue that the 25-year-old should be available to play, meaning Liverpool would risk punishment by FIFA if they were to field him while he could be playing for his country at the Africa Cup of Nations.

“We can confirm that Liverpool FC contacted FIFA about the matter and our services answered by directing the club to the applicable provisions,” a FIFA spokesperson told the Liverpool Echo.

“A player who has been called up by his association for one of its representative teams is, unless otherwise agreed by the relevant association, not entitled to play for the club with which he is registered during the period for which he has been released or should have been released pursuant to the provisions of this annexe, plus an additional period of five days.”

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