While there was nothing at stake on a sodden night in east London, the Ivorian players will have had in the back of their minds the upcoming 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. And interim Côte d'Ivoire coach Francois Zahoui, assuming he is still in charge for the first qualifier against Rwanda in early September, will have been pleased by the showing of his side against an Italy team keen to start afresh following a poor 2010 FIFA World Cup™ campaign.
Zahoui continued where his predecessor Eriksson left off, with every member of his starting line-up having travelled to South Africa. Four members of the team who started the Elephants' last game, a 3-0 victory over Korea DPR in Durban, were included in the first XI at the home ground of Premier League side West Ham. As well as Gervinho and Didier Zokora, Kolo Toure and his brother Yaya were involved from the off, with the latter playing his second game in England following his transfer from Barcelona to Manchester City.
Italy went close to going ahead just two minutes into the game, after the Azzurri were awared a free-kick just outside the box for Didier Zokora's handball. But Mario Balotelli, one of three Italians making their debut under new coach Cesare Prandelli, fired just over the bar. Balotelli was at the heart of Italy's early attacks, prompting thoughts of what might have been had he not been controversially overlooked by Marcello Lippi for his country's FIFA World Cup campaign, which ended at the group stage.
Salomon Kalou enjoyed the Ivorians' first chance on goal, 12 minutes into the game, following Gervinho's perfectly-weighted offload, only for the Chelsea striker's shot to be deflected wide by defender Marco Motta. Three minutes later Gervinho - playing out wide on the right in a three-pronged attacking formation - tested Italian keeper Salvatore Sirigu with a low shot.
But Italy, with the Brazilian-born Amauri making his debut up front, looked dangerous on the break and at the set-piece - and captain Daniele de Rossi was inches away from opening the scoring on 20 minutes with a powerful free-kick from just outside the area.
On the half-hour, both teams missed easy chances, first Gervinho after a deft back-heel from Seydou Doumbia put him in front of an open goal only for the Lille forward to slice wide. Then after Italy broke from the resulting goal-kick Balotelli dived for a header fewer than six metres out from the goal-line, but somehow managed to nod the ball wide of the post.
Straight after the restart Antonio Cassano - another surprise omission from Italy's South Africa 2010 squad - linked well with Motta to put the full-back through on goal, only for him to hit the post.
But just as Italy seemed to be gaining the upper hand, Kolo Toure was the man to break the deadlock ten minutes into the second half. Guy Demel floated a cross from the left for the Manchester City defender to nod past Sirigu and spark celebrations from the Ivorian supporters among the 11,176-strong crowd. Prandelli rang the changes but although two of his substitutes, Marco Borriello and Mattia Cassani, went close, Italy were unable to equalise.