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By ESPN Staff

Kessie penalty helps Ivory Coast to AFCON qualifying win over Niger

Ivory Coast squeaked by Niger on Saturday.

AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie scored a second-half penalty as Ivory Coast laboured to a 1-0 victory over Niger in their opening 2021 Africa Cup of Nations Group K qualifier in Abidjan on Saturday.

It was the second spot-kick of the game for the home side, after Max Gradel missed a first-half chance from 12 yards having argued furiously with Arsenal forward Nicolas Pepe over who would take the kick.

Pepe won the first penalty when he was felled in the box and wanted to take it, but had the ball snatched from him by Gradel, who then saw his effort saved by Niger goalkeeper Kassaly Daouda.

Kessie was able to spare Gradel's blushes though when the Ivorians were given a second chance from the spot after Kessie's cross was handled in the box.

This time the kick was stroked confidently into the bottom corner as Kessie netted his first international goal.

Madagascar also made a winning start in the group when they defeated Ethiopia 1-0 in Antananarivo.

Troyes midfielder Rayan Raveloson also scored his first international goal in the opening half to seal the victory for a Malagasy side who were the surprise package of the 2019 edition in Egypt, reaching the quarter-finals in their debut appearance at the continental finals.

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