Didier Drogba had a penalty saved before scoring in each half as Côte d'Ivoire triumphed 3-0 against Equatorial Guinea Saturday in their 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final. The 33-year-old Chelsea striker struck with his right foot on 36 minutes and his head on 69 as the Elephants made it four wins in four matches and set up a semi-final date against Gabon or Mali in Libreville next Wednesday.
Yaya Toure completed the scoring nine minutes from full-time with a superb free-kick, curling the ball over the wall and past goalkeeper Danilo to send the home supporters streaming to the exits. It was a predictable outcome to a match that never scaled dizzy heights with the Ivorians fielding stars from some of the top leagues in Europe while the Equatoguineans relied heavily on Spanish lower-league footballers.
Côte d'Ivoire made six changes from the weakened team that outplayed Angola to top Group B, but there were no starting places for Premier League duo Salomon Kalou or Cheik Tiote. Equatorial Guinea recalled Laurence Doe and Iban 'Randy' Iyanga after they completed one-match bans plus David Alvarez, and preferred Cameroon-born Narcisse Ekanga to compatriot Thierry Fidjeu up front.
Drogba said he had had to pull himself together after his missed spotkick. "My teammates encouraged me and supported me a lot. I had to get back into the game and I owed them these goals. I am happy to have produced the goods for them and I am proud of my colleagues."
Elephants coach Francois Zahoui said: "We suffered more than we might have expected. We knew we had to win the midfield battle. We knew we had the players up front who could make the difference. Another team would have lost because I saw a very good Equatorial Guinesa side out there. Happily for us, Didier made the difference and we came through."
Defeated hosts' coach Gilson Paulo felt his charges had fought gamely. "I am pleased with my team's work. We lost because we came up against a very strong team. Now we have to look to the future."
Although 133 places separated them on the FIFA world rankings, the home team held their own early on, getting plenty of players behind the ball each time the Ivorians threatened. But the ball was almost exclusively in the Equatoguinean half with opposing goalkeeper Boubacar Barry a mere onlooker and the visitors had a good chance to take the lead just before the half-hour mark.
Ben Konate fouled Didier Zokora just inside the penalty area only for Drogba to have his hard, well-placed spot kick superbly pushed away at the expense of a corner by Brazil-born Danilo. The captain atoned soon after with a clinical finish although the goal came gift-wrapped from centre-back Fernando Rui, who had plenty of time to clear a long pass but let it slip past him. Drogba darted forward, turned inside Rui and fellow central defender Doe and unleashed a low shot that beat Danilo and flew just inside the near post to give the Elphants a deserved 1-0 half-time advantage.
Equatorial Guinea won more possession in the early second-half exchanges before Gervinho squandered a great chance to double the Ivorian lead on the hour mark as he dribbled past several defenders before losing control. Reigning African Footballer of the Year Toure took the free kick that led to the second goal with Drogba soaring above Doe and his flying header gave Danilo no chance.