Two draws at this stage of the competition will not be of too much concern to Michel Dussuyer’s side, as the Elephants have been here before.
In Equatorial Guinea two years ago, they also drew their first two group games before going on to claim its first AFCON trophy.
However, it has been seven years since a defending Africa Cup of Nations champion reached the knockout stages.
Unbeaten in 13 games, its last defeat coming against Mali in February last year — a run of 351 days — the Ivory Coast will rightly be confident of ending that run.
“We did not mix all the ingredients to claim more than a draw,” Elephants coach Michel Dussuyer said after his side’s stalemate against Togo.
But if Dussuyer had hoped his players would rise to the occasion against The Democratic Republic of the Congo, he will have been left somewhat disappointed.
It took a fortuitous deflected shot from captain Serey Die to salvage a point in an otherwise disappointing performance.
The Ivory Coast will have known this fixture carried an extra level of importance for DR Congo. Two years ago, on its way to lifting the title, Yaya Toure and Co. knocked out the Leopards of DR Congo in the semifinals.
Though in the jungle city of Oyem Friday, it was an uphill battle from the start as DR Congo took the lead inside 10 minutes.
Junior Kabananga — the match winner against Morocco — controlled a throw-in and held the ball up inside the box, before laying it into the path of the onrushing Neeskens Kebano.
Without breaking stride, the Fulham striker — named after the legendary Dutch midfielder Johan Neeskens — unleashed a ferocious right-foot drive which cannoned off the inside of the post and into the net.
Wilfried Bony then had a chance to equalize almost immediately. Wilfred Zaha’s perfectly-measured cross found the Stoke City striker’s head, but he could only direct it wide with keeper Ley Matampi well beaten.
However, it wouldn’t be long before he did find the leveler — a teasing corner allowed Bony to attack the ball at the near post and power his header across goal, past Matampi’s despairing dive.
Bony ran to the Ivorian bench and kissed a member of the coaching staff on the forehead, but he had barely made his way back onto the pitch when DR Congo retook the lead.
Defender Marcel Tisserand hit a raking pass which landed at the feet of Firmin Mubele down the right.
Plying his trade in the Congolese first division, Mubele’s cross evaded the head of European stars Eric Bailly and Serge Aurier to leave Kabananga unmarked with a simple header at the far post.
DR Congo was good value for its lead and coach Florent Ibenge will have been pleased with how his side has fared in the absence of star player Yannick Bolasie and captain Gabriel Zakuani.
Ivory Coast, though, started the second half with intent. With just three minutes gone, Gradel’s free-kick was met by half-time substitute Simon Deli in front of goal, but he glanced his header wide without a DR Congo defender in sight.
While the Ivory Coast had gradually grown into the contest, clear-cut chances remained at a premium and there was certainly more than an element of fortune about the equalizing goal.
FC Basel midfielder Die drove into the heart of the DR Congo midfield, before his low shot took a wicked deflection and deceived Matampi in the DR Congo goal.
As the clocked ticked into its final minute, Saloman Kalou then thought he had scored the winner.
Zaha’s sumptuous free-kick into the box was met by Kalou on the volley, but the former Chelsea striker was only greeted by the sight of the linesman’s flag as he wheeled away in celebration.
Though the second half was a marked from the insipid showing in the first, the Ivory Coast will be watching Friday’s late clash between Morocco and Togo ahead of what will be a make or break decider against Morocco next week.
Morocco back from the brink
After a surprise defeat in their opening round fixture against DR Congo, Morocco’s Atlas Lions had given themselves a mountain to climb.
Anything less than a victory against Togo would surely spell a premature end to its stay in Gabon.
Morocco, unsurprisingly, started on the front foot and won a corner inside five minutes following some promising play down the left.
Faycal Fajr’s deep cross into the box was met by the head of Togo’s Atakora Lalawele, and from there the Sparrowhawks set off on a scintillating team counter-attack that culminated in one of the goals of the tournament.
There was little over 10 seconds between Lalawele’s header and Mathieu Dossevi slotting Floyd Ayite’s through ball into the far corner, a total of nine touches from start to finish.
Morocco was now staring an early AFCON exit in face, but had a lifeline less than 10 minutes later.
This time Fajr’s corner found Aziz Bouhaddouz who planted his header into the net — though Togo felt aggrieved after a high foot impeded goalkeeper Kossi Agassa.
With the wind in its sails, Morocco pressed for another and was rewarded for its attacking endeavor just six minutes later.
Again a Fajr set piece was the undoing of Togo’s defense; this time Romain Saiss glanced his free-kick past the flailing Agassa to send the Morocco bench into raptures for the first time this tournament.
Though Morocco continued to press, it took until the 72nd minute for Herve Renard’s side to put the game out of reach.
Agassa was again called into question as the goalkeeper allowed a rather timid long range effort from substitute Youssef En-Nesyri to bobble over his hand and into the goal.
Togo now needs to beat DR Congo in its final group game to stand any chance of qualifying, while Morocco knows a draw against the Ivory Coast will see it progress to the quarterfinals.