Ivorians recognize need to improve at African Cup

TALES AZZONI AP Sports Writer Published:

RUSTENBURG, South Africa (AP) -- Seeking its first African title since 1992, the star-filled Ivory Coast squad has a lot of work ahead to stay on track for the elusive title.

And they know it.

The Ivorians struggled to beat Togo 2-1 on Tuesday, needing an 88th-minute winner from Gervinho to escape with three points in a difficult Group D.

Players and Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi recognize the team will have to play better to remain a top title contender and that another disappointing performance in the team's match against Tunisia on Saturday in Rustenburg may be costly.

"It's a feeling of relief because it's the victory that counts," Lamouchi said. "But we will have to focus on improving our performance because it was far from what we can do. It was one of our worst performances since I've been ahead of this national team. We made things difficult on ourselves by making too many mistakes.

"I'm happy with this victory but I'm not sure if it was well deserved. I know the next game is going to be more difficult," Lamouchi said.

Tunisia beat Algeria 1-0, also with a late winner. Algeria will next play Togo.

Ivory Coast, which lost to Zambia in last year's final, struggled to create many scoring opportunities on Tuesday and had to rely on a couple of big saves by goalkeeper Boubacar Barry, who got most of the praise from his teammates after the match.

His most important stop came in the fourth minute of second-half injury time, just before the final whistle. After substitute Floyd Ayite came up with a diving header from close range, Barry dived to his right and deflected the ball away, much to the disbelief of the Togo players.

Barry had already made a remarkable save three minutes into the match after a mistake by defender Kolo Toure allowed Tottenham striker Emmanuel Adebayor to enter the area free from any markers. The striker tried to dribble past Barry, but the goalkeeper quickly jumped onto the ball to keep it from getting past him for an easy goal.

"I made a huge mistake early in the game and it was a very tough situation, but we have a very good goalkeeper and he saved that in a great way," Toure said. "Good teams must have good goalkeepers and tonight we had a great one."

Togo was widely seen as the weakest team in the group and the Ivorians were expected to breeze through the opener at Royal Bafokeng Stadium. The team led by Didier Drogba seemed in control early and got on the board less than 10 minutes into the match with a goal by Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure.

But Togo continued playing tightly and keeping Ivory Coast from threatening. It had its chances with Adebayor leading the way up front, and got the equalizer from forward Jonathan Ayite from a corner kick just before halftime.

The game appeared headed to a draw when Yaya Toure sent a long free kick cross into the area and Arsenal forward Gervinho ran behind the defenders to one-touch the ball into the far corner for the winner.

"The game was not easy for us but we left with the victory," Gervinho said. "We know the next games will be difficult so we will work to correct our mistakes."

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