Substitute Gradel’s late goal earns Cote d’Ivoire draw against Mali

Cote d'Ivoire midfielder Max Gradel (C) is congratulated by teammates after scoring the equalizer against Mali.


MALABO, Equatorial Guinea — Tactical changes again helped Cote d’Ivoire avoid defeat at the African Cup of Nations, this time in a 1-1 draw with Mali on Saturday.

First-half substitute Max Gradel beat another substitute, Mali goalkeeper Germain Berthe, in the 87th minute to rescue the Ivorians and give the tournament favorites two points in Group D, the same as Mali.

”We had to adapt as the game went on and make formational changes,” said Cote d’Ivoire coach Herve Renard, who also made a late change in the 1-1 draw with Guinea in the opening match.

The Malians had taken an early lead at Malabo Stadium when Bakary Sako blasted in a cross from Sambou Yatabare in the seventh minute. But as time was winding down, Renard made his final two changes – and it worked again.

Mali had a chance to double its lead with an indirect free kick inside the Cote d’Ivoire area in the 40th minute after Cote d’Ivoire defender Eric Bailly committed an illegal backpass by using his foot to tip the ball up to himself and head it back to goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo.

”It’s two points lost, make no mistake,” Mali captain Seydou Keita said. ”Yes, Ivory Coast have a big reputation but we care nothing about that, we have lost two points.”

The Ivorians will next play Cameroon on Wednesday in Malabo in their final group match. Mali will face Guinea in Mongomo at the same time.

Cote d’Ivoire will still be without Gervinho for the match against Cameroon. The Roma forward was given a straight red card in the opening match and subsequently handed a two-match suspension.

But the team will have Yaya Toure and some of the other veterans on the field for a match that they will most likely need to win to advance to the quarterfinals.

Renard’s changes on Saturday started in the 39th minute when he brought on Gradel to replace Ismael Diomande. The Saint-Etienne midfielder was the player that lost possession when Mali created its goal.

Renard’s last two changes came in the 83rd when forward Salomon Kalou came on for defender Wilfried Kanon and in the 84th when forward Junior Tallo replaced Wilfried Bony, another forward.

”The second half of the first game was better than the first,” Renard said. ”This game was better than the last.”

Shortly before Renard’s changes, Mali coach Henri Kasperczak was forced to make a change in goal. Soumaila Diakite started limping with a muscle injury and finally dropped to the ground in the 68th minute. He was taken off on a stretcher and eventually replaced by the 21-year-old Berthe in the 72nd.

”We played well again but unfortunately, for the second time, we conceded a late goal,” said Kasperczak, whose team drew 1-1 with Cameroon on Tuesday. ”But it’s a good result.”