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2018 World Cup Qualifying - CAF, Round Three

Toothless Ivory Coast held by Mali in World Cup qualification

Serge Aurier in action for Ivory Coast Photo by VI Images via Getty Images

Ivory Coast missed the opportunity to consolidate top spot in African World Cup qualifying Group C as they were held 0-0 by Mali in Bamako on Friday, mathematically confirming the hosts' elimination.

The Elephants, shorn of many of their best players, lacked an offensive threat throughout the contest, and continued their miserable year in which they've won just one competitive fixture.

The draw means the Ivorians end the day in top spot in Group C, but Friday's draw, coupled with their shock 2-1 home defeat by Gabon earlier in September opens the door to either the Panthers or Morocco.

Gabon, buoyed by their victory over Marc Wilmots' side in Bouake last month, would move level with the Elephants if they beat Morocco in Casablanca on Saturday, while a draw would be enough for Herve Renard's side to take pole position in the group.

Either way, the Elephants would still qualify for Russia 2018 if they beat Morocco at home in their final qualifier last month, unless Gabon win both of their matches and overturn a goal-difference deficit of six goals.

Chances were at a premium for both sides in Friday evening's West African derby, with the hosts' best opportunity falling to Moussa Doumbia in the 65th minute.

He cut inside from the left and sent a thunderous shot towards goal. It beat Sylvain Gbohouo, but rattled back off the crossbar as the Eagles' hopes of reaching a maiden World Cup were extinguished.

Wilmots, without Gervinho, Wilfried Bony, Max Gradel and Seydou Doumbia, opted to start an untested trio of Jonathan Kodjia, Roger Assale and Maxwel Cornet, but they lacked cohesion and struggled to impose themselves on the contest.

Jean Seri was also a significant loss for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations champions, as they struggled to construct attacks and retain possession without the OGC Nice playmaker conducting his side from the heart of the park.

The introduction of Salomon Kalou in the 67th minute prompted a late surge of Ivorian pressure towards the end of the contest, with the Hertha Berlin forward forcing an excellent save from Djigui Diarra five minutes from time in the visitors' best chance of the contest.

Ultimately, a lethargic Ivorian display wasn't enough to break down Alain Giresse's young side, and while this inexperienced Malian team will lick their wounds and come back stronger for the 2019 AFCON, the Ivory Coast must now attempt to pick themselves up and salvage a qualifying campaign that is fast getting away from them.

WC Qual - CAF News