Ivory Coast off to a flyer
Kalou strike seals points for Elephants
By Lewis Rutledge. Last Updated: January 21, 2008 7:59pm
Salomon Kalou's sublime goal gave Ivory Coast a 1-0 victory over Nigeria at Sekondi Stadium in the opening game of Group B.
The game was billed as the first battle between two of the tournament's heavyweights but neither side played like potential champions in an entertaining yet error-strewn encounter.
There were 11 Premier League players on show in total and it was Portsmouth striker Kanu who came close to breaking the deadlock after just two minutes as he drilled a shot wide from outside the area.
Nigeria had the better of the early chances and were almost gifted the lead in the 12th minute when Obafemi Martins' fierce effort slipped through the grasp of Ivory Coast goalkeeper Boubacar Barry but trickled away to safety.
Taye Taiwo crashed a powerful free-kick against the crossbar a couple of minutes later, while Barry's unorthodox style always made Ivory Coast appear vulnerable at the back.
Ivory Coast offered little as an attacking force in the first half despite having Didier Drogba in their line-up, and their best moment arrived when Kolo Toure swerved a shot just past the post from long range.
At the start of the second half Nigeria were once again on the front foot, with Danny Shittu heading over and Martins drawing a fine save from Barry.
Ivory Coast suddenly clicked into gear around the hour mark and threatened twice in quick succession as Kolo Toure forced Austin Ejide into a smart stop and Arthur Boka lashed wide from a tight angle on the left.
Salomon Kalou then put The Elephants ahead on 66 minutes with a stunning solo goal. The Chelsea forward picked up possession 30 yards out and showed nimble footwork to jink his way past three defenders, before coolly stroking the ball home from inside the area.
Nigeria were rattled and Ivory Coast nearly added to their lead when substitute Abdul Kader Keita barged past Taiwo to set up a good opportunity for himself, only to blaze high and wide.
The game became stretched in the final stages as Nigeria committed more men forward in pursuit of an equaliser, but chances came and went at either end as Ivory Coast held on for three points.
They go on to face Benin in their next game, while Nigeria will hope to get back on track against Mali.