Kodjia fires Ivory Coast past South Africa in Africa Cup of Nations

Jonathan Kodjia netted the only goal of the game. (AP)
Updated 24 June 2019
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Kodjia fires Ivory Coast past South Africa in Africa Cup of Nations

  • The Elephants set themselves up for a much improved display in Egypt after Kodjia scrambled home the winner on 64 minutes

CAIRO: Jonathan Kodjia struck the only goal as Ivory Coast defeated South Africa 1-0 in the steamy Cairo heat on Monday in a meeting of former Africa Cup of Nations champions.

Ivory Coast won the title for the second time in 2015 but crashed out in the group stage two years ago without a victory and are trying to rebuild a team to match that of their golden generation.

The Elephants set themselves up for a much improved display in Egypt after Kodjia scrambled home the winner on 64 minutes against the 1996 champions.

“It was a difficult match and the important thing for us was not to come a cropper in the opening game,” said Ivory Coast coach Ibrahim Kamara. “We needed to start well in the competition and that’s what we’ve done.”

South Africa boss Stuart Baxter said he had no complaints about the result after his side rarely threatened the Ivorian goal.

“Because of the lack of strikes on goal we can’t complain about losing the game, but I thought the players put in a great performance and it’s a great learning curve for us,” he said.

Talent

Kamara sees Nicolas Pepe as one the young stars who can banish the memories of a disastrous title defense, and the in-demand Lille forward soon demonstrated his talent with a jinking run that ended with Kodjia snatching at a shot from close range.

South Africa, who failed to qualify for the 2017 edition, on the other hand have arrived in Egypt as one of the most unpredictable teams.

Bafana Bafana scaled the heights at the outset of 2019 qualifying by winning 2-0 in Nigeria, then sank into mediocrity by drawing 0-0 away to lowly ranked Seychelles.

In the first half at Al Salam Stadium where temperatures again peaked around 37 Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit) they were largely limited to counter-attacks, captain Thulani Hlatshwayo going closest with a header that brushed the roof of the net.

Ivory Coast headed home early in Gabon after they were held by Togo and the Democratic Republic of Congo and lost against Morocco, but they nearly took the lead here twice in quick succession around the half-hour.

After a foul on the edge of the South Africa box Pepe, the 22-goal second highest French Ligue 1 scorer last season behind Kylian Mbappe, slammed a thunderous free kick against the crossbar with Ronwen Williams rooted to the spot.

The South Africa goalkeeper then produced a stunning reflex save to keep Kodjia out moments later as the Aston Villa forward ran clean through before needlessly opting for power over precision.

Amid the energy-sapping heat both sides made a labored start to the second half but it eventually burst into life when Kodjia atoned for his earlier miss.

Max Gradel was released into space down the left and the winger whipped a precise early ball across to an unmarked Kodjia who stabbed beyond Williams.

South Africa substitute Lars Veldwijk tumbled to the ground under pressure from Serge Kanon late on as they pressed for an equalizer and Sibusiso Vilakazi blazed over on the turn, while Pepe was denied a second for Ivory Coast from another free-kick following a flying save by Williams.


Arsenal open US tour with 3-0 friendly win in Colorado

Updated 16 July 2019
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Arsenal open US tour with 3-0 friendly win in Colorado

LOS ANGELES: Brazilian Gabriel Martinelli scored in his Arsenal debut Monday as the English Premier League club launched their pre-season tour of the US with a 3-0 friendly win over the Colorado Rapids.

Bukayo Saka and James Olayinka also scored for the Gunners, who cruised to victory at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in suburban Denver.

Martinelli, the 18-year-old forward signed from Ituano on July 2, was given a surprise start in attack by Unai Emery and sent an early chance wide.

Saka, 17, was an energetic presence and put Arsenal up 1-0 in the 13th minute as he collected a through-ball from Eddie Nketiah.

Another teenager — 18-year-old Olayinka —  doubled the score in the 29th, seizing a stray pass from defense and racing in to fire into the top left corner of the net.

Martinelli, having missed his early chance, capped the scoring in the 61st when he slotted home a cross from close range.

The Rapids, in the midst of the Major League Soccer season, fielded a mostly reserve side that featured several players from the lower-rung Colorado Springs Switchbacks.

Arsenal, too, started a reserve team as they begin their build up to the Premier League season after again failing to secure a Champions League berth.

The tour has not started without controversy. Captain Laurent Koscielny refused to travel to the US, and a group of influential Arsenal supporters’ organizations published a statement on Monday hitting out at Stan Kroenke’s “passive ownership.”

Under a hashtag “WeCareDo You” the statement decried a “soulless” atmosphere at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium and a lack of transfer strategy.

Kroenke, who began investing in the club in 2007 through his company Kroenke Sports Enterprises and took full ownership in 2018, also owns the Rapids as well as the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams.