Ibrahim Kamara grateful Ivory Coast 'didn't come a cropper' against South Africa in 2019 Africa Cup of Nations opener
Kodjia's goal on 64 minutes enough to ensure the Elephants open 2019 Afcon campaign with three points in Cairo
Jonathan Kodjia struck the only goal as Ivory Coast defeated South Africa 1-0 in the steamy Cairo heat on Monday in a meeting of former Africa Cup of Nations champions.
Ivory Coast won the title for the second time in 2015 but crashed out in the group stage two years ago without a victory and are trying to rebuild a team to match that of its golden generation.
The Elephants set themselves up for a much improved display in Egypt after Kodjia scrambled home the winner on 64 minutes against the 1996 champions.
"It was a difficult match and the important thing for us was not to come a cropper in the opening game," said Ivory Coast manager Ibrahim Kamara. "We needed to start well in the competition and that's what we've done."
South Africa counterpart Stuart Baxter said he had no complaints about the result after his side rarely threatened the Ivorian goal.
"Because of the lack of strikes on goal we can't complain about losing the game, but I thought the players put in a great performance and it's a great learning curve for us," he said.
Kamara sees Nicolas Pepe as one the young stars who can banish the memories of a disastrous title defence, and the in-demand Lille forward soon demonstrated his talent with a jinking run that ended with Kodjia snatching at a shot from close range.
South Africa, who failed to qualify for the 2017 edition, on the other hand have arrived in Egypt as one of the most unpredictable teams.
Bafana Bafana scaled the heights at the outset of 2019 qualifying by winning 2-0 in Nigeria, then sank into mediocrity by drawing 0-0 away to lowly-ranked Seychelles.
In the first half at Al Salam Stadium where temperatures again peaked around 37° Celsius they were largely limited to counter-attacks, captain Thulani Hlatshwayo going closest with a header that brushed the roof of the net.
Ivory Coast headed home early in Gabon after they were held by Togo and the DR of Congo and lost against Morocco, but they nearly took the lead here twice in quick succession around the half hour.
After a foul on the edge of the South Africa box Pepe, the 22-goal second highest French Ligue 1 scorer last season behind Kylian Mbappe, slammed a thunderous free kick against the crossbar with Ronwen Williams rooted to the spot.
The South Africa goalkeeper then produced a stunning reflex save to keep Kodjia out moments later as the Aston Villa forward ran clean through before needlessly opting for power over precision.
Amid the energy-sapping heat both sides made a laboured start to the second half but it eventually burst into life when Kodjia atoned for his earlier miss.
Max Gradel was released into space down the left and the winger whipped a precise early ball across to an unmarked Kodjia who stabbed beyond Williams.
Tunisia first Cup of Nations top seeds not to win
Tunisia became the first 2019 Africa Cup of Nations top seeds not to win their opening match when Djalma Campos cancelled out a Youssef Msakni goal and earned Angola a 1-1 Group E draw on Monday.
Hosts Egypt, Nigeria, Morocco and Senegal won their first matches of the 24-team tournament and the other top seeds, Cameroon, debut Tuesday against Guinea-Bissau.
Tunisia led when Msakni blasted a penalty into the net on 34 minutes only for Campos to punish a blunder by goalkeeper Farouk Ben Mustapha in the 73rd minute.
It was the second time Angola and Tunisia met at the biennial African football showpiece and the second time they drew after a goalless deadlock in Ghana 11 years ago.
Mali hand out Afcon lesson to newcomers Mauritania
Mali inflicted a harsh dose of reality on Africa Cup of Nations debutants Mauritania by routing the newcomers 4-1 on Monday in their first ever game at the tournament.
After decades being among the weakest African football nations, the largely desert northwestern country have reached the expanded 24-team competition for the first time.
Long regarded as pushovers, Mauritania have improved steadily under Frenchman Corentin Martins, but they were blown away by a Mali side who faced the threat of disqualification in the build-up to the event.
Fifa warned Malian football officials to get their act together regarding the holding of elections or face suspension, and they did so with less than a week to spare, although they named their squad for Egypt four days after the deadline.
Mali have often punched above their weight, finishing third in 2012 and 2013 after twice eliminating the host nations, but did not get out of their group in the last two editions.
Coach Mohamed Magassouba has emphasised youth although it was one of his elder statesmen, 28-year-old captain Abdoulay Diaby, who set Mali on their way in Suez with a 20-yard rocket into the top corner after 37 minutes.
Moussa Marega, among the leading scorers in this season's Uefa Champions League, converted a penalty to double the lead before half time after goalkeeper Brahim Souleymane committed a foul as he attempted to smother a shot he spilled.
Adama "Noss" Traore smacked in a third with a sweet low drive 10 minutes after half time, but Mauritania pulled a goal back when Hacen calmly dispatched a penalty after Mamadou Fofana impeded Ismael Diakite.
Any hopes of a Mauritania fightback were instantly scrubbed away though when substitute Adama Traore, who had earlier replaced his namesake, curled a marvellous strike beyond a helpless Souleymane.
Published: June 25, 2019 11:58 AM