Seydou Doumbia rose from the bench to rescue a 1-1 draw for Cote d’Ivoire against Guinea, despite Gervinho’s earlier red card.
Despite Herve Renard’s men boasting a formidable attacking line-up including Wilfried Bony, Salomon Kalou, Yaya Toure and Gervinho, Guinea had led through Mohammed Yattara’s first-half strike.
The Lyon striker made the most of sloppy Ivorian defending to finish and, when Gervinho was sent off for lashing out at Naby Keita before the hour, all signs were pointing to a huge upset in Group D’s first fixture.
Guinea’s Ibrahima Traore then hit the bar in a further scare for the Ivory Coast, who have often flattered to deceive in recent editions of the AFCON given the huge amount of quality at their disposal.
However, their class came to the fore as Bony played in substitute Doumbia to calmly tuck away the equaliser 18 minutes from time, although questions will likely still be asked of Renard following an under-par Ivorian showing.
Chances were few and far between early on as Guinea were able to snuff out an early opening created by Gervinho for Yaya Toure.
The Roma forward was among the brightest sparks for the Ivory Coast in the opening stages and forced the game’s first chance – collecting the ball on the halfway line and surging forward before crossing for Bony.
The new Manchester City signing saw his effort saved by Naby Yattara, with the Guinea goalkeeper able to tip Gervinho’s effort on the rebound onto the post and away from danger.
Kalou then infuriated Guinea’s defenders with what they felt was a dive in the area – any half-hearted penalty appeals swiftly waved away by referee Mehdi Abid Charef.
However, against the run of play, Guinea took the lead as Mohamed Yattara made the most of a loose Serge Aurier clearance nine minutes before the break.
On the turn, he unleashed a fierce left-footed strike past Sylvain Gbohouo while his namesake Naby was required to tip over a long-range Bony strike early in the second half.
Ivorian skipper Yaya Toure was next to go close – firing wide from the edge of the area – but Renard’s men appeared lacklustre and were not allowed to generate any tempo by a busy Guinea outfit.
And their hopes of getting anything from the game were dealt a huge blow when Gervinho saw red card for an off-the-ball incident with Keita – leaving the pitch visibly upset by his actions.
However, substitute Doumbia made his case for assuming Gervinho’s place against Mali on Saturday as he rescued a point with 18 minutes remaining – making the most of Bony’s clever lay-off to level and avoid what would have been a real shock.