The Elephants of Cote d'Ivoire booted out a disappointing Mali yesterday with a 3-0 humiliating victory to top the group of death and book a quarter-final date with Guinea in Sekondi on Monday.All the Elephants needed was to clip the wings of the Eagles and end the preliminaries with maximum points, like Ghana.
Playing without regular players like Artur Boka, Kolo Toure, Salomon Kalou and Aruna Dindane, the Egypt 2006 runners-up were still too strong for the Malians who missed their influential skipper, Mahamadou Diarra, through suspension.
The Ivorians, led in attack this time by skipper Didier Drogba and blond-haired Arouna Kone, with Didier Zokora taking over the role of Toure in central defence, overshadowed their opponents, leaving Frederic Kanoute anonymous in the 45 minutes that he lasted in the game.
By the ninth minute, the Elephants had set their demolition work in motion with Africa's Best Player, Drogba, increasing his tournament tally to two with a clinical finish.
Before the Malian defence could hold him in check, the Chelsea striker was already in flight with a delicate Yaya Toure pass which he placed beyond the reach of goalkeeper Mahamadou Sidibe.
From then on the talent of MTN man of the match, Emerse Fae, began to show as he pushed the Elephants attack with some sweet runs, together with Arsenal's Emmanuel Eboue on the right and Siaka Tiene on the left.
However, Arouna Kone, who was playing his first match in the tournament, was wasteful, as usual, missing two clear chances in the 28th and 34th minutes to the displeasure of their vociferous fans.
On the flipside, Sevilla midfielder, Seydou Keita, who won the Samsung Fair Player award, was the only bright spot in the Malian side as he took on the Ivorian defence at will with his deft touches but lacked the cutting edge upfront.
Though Seydou enjoyed good support from Juventus' new-signing, Mohamed Sissoko, after the break, that did not stop the Ivorians from finding target twice before the end.
Strong defender, Marc Zoro, rose above everybody to powerfully head home a cross from Abdul Kader Keita after 54 minutes, while substitute Boubacar Sanogo completed the rout from a rebound late in the game.
And before Drogba was replaced by Sanogo in the 74th minute, he had been denied twice in the 59th and 61st minutes when Cedric Kante headed out his effort in the first instance, while keeper Sidibe pushed a grounder to corner.
The closest the Malians came to scoring in this half was after 67 minutes when Dramane Traore hit the crossbar, with goalkeeper Boubacar Barry completely beaten.
Story by Samuel Ebo Kwaitoo