Equatorial Guinea 0-1 Ivory Coast - Gradel's stunner makes the difference in Douala

Max Gradel - Ivory Coast
The Sivasspor midfielder separated both teams at Japoma Stadium with a screamer from outside the penalty area

Max Gradel scored a stunning goal to give Ivory Coast a 1-0 win in their opening match against Equatorial Guinea at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.

The 34-year-old pounced on a loose ball just outside the penalty area and he drifted his first touch to the back of the net in the fifth minute.

Equatorial Guinea came out after conceding the opening goal, with the ambition of grabbing an equaliser but they struggled to beat the midfield trio of Ibrahima Sangare, Jean-Michael Seri and Franck Kessie.

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However, the presence of Ajax's Sebastian Haller was felt in Ivory Coast's attack and he won three free-kicks in the opening half while Sangare received the first yellow card of the game in the 31st minute, a few minutes after he came close to converting Kessie's cross with a header.

After the restart, the National Thunder had their best attempt in the 70th minute with Iban Salvador firing a shot from outside the penalty area, only for goalkeeper Badra Sangare to parry it to safety.

Patrice Beaumelle, however, tried to extend his team's lead by introducing the attacking duo of Nicolas Pepe and Wilfried Zaha for Gradel and Cornet respectively in the 71st minute but their efforts bore no fruits in the encounter.

Ivory Coast are now Group E leaders after securing maximum points with Algeria and Sierra Leone sharing a point each following their goalless draw on Tuesday.

The Elephants are expected to face Sierra Leone on Sunday while Equatorial Guinea have a date with defending champions Algeria that same day.