MALABO, Equatorial Guinea — Ivory Coast sealed a semifinal place in the African Cup of Nations with a 3-0 victory against co-host Equatorial Guinea on Saturday.
After missing a penalty, captain Didier Drogba took advantage of a defensive slip to score in the 36th minute and headed into the top corner in the 69th. Yaya Toure added a late third with an 81st-minute free kick.
Equatorial Guinea goalkeeper Emanuel-Danilo Clementino saved Drogba's penalty in the 29th after a foul on Didier Zokora.
"My teammates gave me a lot of encouragement after missing the penalty and I had to score for them," Drogba said. "I owed it to them. I was proud of the team."
Ivory Coast's win ended Equatorial Guinea's dream run in its debut African Cup campaign. The lowest-ranked team in the tournament beat much fancied Senegal and Libya on the way to a quarterfinal spot.
"I'm satisfied with the work of my team today, but I'm not happy with the defeat," coach Gilson Paulo said. "I knew it was going to be a very difficult game, we were playing a very technical team with a lot of experience."
Ivory Coast coach Francois Zahoui returned to a more familiar lineup after beating Angola 2-0 in the last group match. Drogba, Yaya Toure, Gervinho and Didier Zokora were all recalled, though Salomon Kalou and Cheick Tiote were left out in favor of Max Gradel and Kafoumba Coulibaly.
"We took advantage of our experience because I think another team might have lost today," Zahoui said. "I have a mature team and Didier Drogba made the difference."
Ivory Coast has won four straight without conceding a goal.
Laurence Doe and Iban Iyanga were back in the Equatorial Guinea team after serving suspensions, while David Alvarez returned in defense as coach Gilson Paulo made four changes from the 1-0 loss to Zambia in the last group match. Central defender Rui Da Gracia also overcame a right knee injury to start.
The home crowd cheered every half-chance for Equatorial Guinea, but those were infrequent in the opening period.
As Ivory Coast hogged possession, Ben Konate tripped Zokora just inside the box to concede a penalty. Drogba stepped up to take the spot kick, but Clementino guessed right and made a diving save to keep the scores level.
The Equatorial Guinea 'keeper reacted with pumped fists and the crowd celebrated as though the home side had taken the lead.
The reprieve was short-lived, however, as Drogba made up for the miss by pouncing on a sloppy clearance by Da Gracia. Drogba advanced into the box before cutting inside Da Gracia and Doe and firing low into the net.
"I can only say sorry to the team," Da Gracia said. "It's a shame because we worked hard all week, but I will take it as a lesson in life."
Drogba's relief was evident as he marched toward the stands punching the air with his eyes bulging, prompting an apology for any offense caused to the home support.
"I've a lot of respect for the people in Equatorial Guinea, I love them, they were fantastic with us since we came here," Drogba said. "My celebration was for the Ivory Coast fans ... if I did something wrong, I apologize."
Drogba's second goal was a powerful header into the top corner from Yaya Toure's free kick to leave Equatorial Guinea's players visibly deflated.
The fans also started to leave the stadium after the second goal. "I was disappointed with the people in Malabo because of that," Alvarez said. "They started to leave instead of giving the team more encouragement."
Yaya Toure sealed the win with a curling free kick from long distance that clipped the post on its way into the back of the net.
"We have fantastic players and fantastic strikers but we have to fight to make sure we win this competition," Toure said.