Emmanuel Eboue was sent off, but Ivory Coast survived his loss to book their place in the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations with an emphatic performance against Ghana last night.
After drawing 0-0 against Burkina Faso in their opening game on Monday, this was a far more impressive showing from the tournament favourites, the return of Salomon Kalou seeming to give their attack a flexibility it had lacked.
Ghana must now beat Burkina Faso in their final game – in Luanda on Tuesday – and they may have to so without their captain Michael Essien, who seemed to be labouring in the final minutes having apparently suffered an adverse reaction to his return after a hamstring injury.
"We played really efficiently," said Didier Drogba. "We played well even with 10 men and knowing how good Ghana are, I would say this was a great result. We tried to win the first game and I think we played well then, but in the second game we were a bit luckier and scored some goals. Even though the pitch was difficult we tried to play good football."
Their opener, midway through the first half, came after just such a passage of intelligent play. Yaya Touré's through-ball was perfectly weighted for Salomon Kalou, and as the goalkeeper Richard Kingson advanced, he calmly knocked the ball square for Gervinho to knock in his third goal for his country.
Boubacar Barry, the Ivorian goalkeeper, promptly unfurled a narrow banner dedicating the goal to the victims of last Friday's terrorist attack on the team-bus of Togo, who should have been the fourth side in what is now a three-team group.
They were 1-0 up and seemed to be cruising when Eboué was dismissed 10 minutes after half-time, lunging from behind into the standing leg of Kwadwo Asamoah. Briefly, as Matthew Amoha volleyed against the post and Asamoah had a free-kick tipped over by the jittery Barry, it looked as though Ghana might find a way back into the game, but the match was settled by a superb free-kick from Siaka Tiene. It was a goal at a crucial time and, for a side who have in the past so regularly faltered under pressure, it seemed to hint at the sort of resilience that has previously been absent
Drogba, who had a quiet match, headed in Kader Keita's cross in injury time to make it 3-0, and although Asamoah Gyan converted a late penalty, controversially awarded after he had gone down under challenge from Soulemane Bamba, it did little to alter the impression of Ivorian power.
"There was a lot of heat in the game," said Yaya Touré. "Getting our first goal of the tournament was difficult for us, but we played tough and played well."
Ivory Coast (4-3-3): Barry; Eboué, K Touré, Bamba, Tiene; Zokora, Y Touré (Fae, 67), Tiote; Gervinho (Demel, 60), Drogba, Kalou (Keita, 84).
Ghana (4-1-4-1): Kingson; Inkoom, Vorsah, Addo, R Ayew; Narry (Essien, h-t); D Ayew (Gyan, 46), Agyemang-Badu, Asamoah, Opoku (Afful, 77); Amoah.
Referee: J Damon (South Africa).
Match Guide: Fixtures
*Nigeria v Benin
Group C, 4pm (Eurosport)
Nigeria face a must-win game following their surprising opening defeat against Egypt. The Super Eagles began Tuesday's match well before going down 3-1 and should be confident of better against an unfancied Benin side. The Squirrels threw away a two-goal lead against Mozambique and could pay dearly for that today.
*Egypt v Mozambique
Group C, 6.30pm (Eurosport)
Defending champions Egypt can guarantee a place in the quarter finals with a win in Benguela tonight, although they may have to do without Hosni Abd-Rabou, Hossam Ghaly and Wael Gomaa, who are all struggling with a virus. Opponents Mozambique came from behind in their opener to earn a draw against Benin but should prove easy pickings for Egypt.