IVORY Coast reinforced their status as tournament favourites with a display of strength as they bulldozed Tunisia 3-0 on Saturday to move closer to a place in the Nations Cup quarter-finals.
Yaya Toure crowned a towering performance with an 87th-minute goal after Gervinho had given the Ivorians the halftime lead and Didier Ya Konan added the third just seconds after coming on as a substitute.
It was a marked improvement on Tuesday's limp start when the Ivorians needed a late goal to beat Togo 2-1 in their first match of the tournament.
Captain Didier Drogba was dropped for the first time, although he came on for the final 25 minutes, and Kolo Toure was also left out by coach Sabri Lamouchi as he attempted to kick-start the campaign for the much-fancied Ivorians.
The victory means the Ivorians, the only side in the competition with a 100% record, could be the first team through to the knockout stage if the second Group D match at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace between Algeria and Togo does not produce a winner.
"This is really the start of the tournament. I'm very satisfied with my players and their reaction. How we played is a reflection of what we have been working on in training," said coach Lamouchi.
But he did not directly address questions about the talismanic Drogba being dropped to the subs bench.
"Those who were fielded were the ones who I believe were ready to face Tunisia from the first minute of the game. I don't see great players, only a great team."
Gervinho finished off an audacious interchange of passes with Lancina Traore in the Tunisian box to score the first goal in the 21st minute at the end of a sustained period of pressure.
It took until the final three minutes for the Ivorians to add more. Toure, playing a more forward than usual and revelling in his new role, got a superb second with a shot from just outside of the penalty box.
Ya Konan had just a couple of touches before he tucked away the third in the 90th minute from almost the same position as the Ivorians stormed all over the Tunisian defence.
Drogba feels great despite first time on bench
Ivory Coast captain Didier Drogba dismissed concerns he may not be in top form after starting Saturday's African Nations Cup 3-0 win over Tunisia on the bench, the first time he was dropped in his international career.
Drogba was brought on for the final 25 minutes of the energy-charged Group D game but still failed to impress, and left it to his teammates Gervinho, Yaya Toure and Didier Ya Konan to ensure a second successive win for the Elephants at tournament.
Drogba last week said he was at only 50-60 percent of his fitness after finishing the season with Shanghai Shenhua in China at the start of November and then not playing for two months before reporting for Nations Cup preparations.
On Saturday he said he was fit to play throughout.
"I feel great. The coach picked his team, and we adapt and play," Drogba told journalists.
"I'm not the manager and it wasn't my decision. Don't try to make a big deal out of the fact that I was on the bench because it's not."
Kolo Toure, who had a bad game in defence on Tuesday when the much-fancied Ivorians opened their bid to win the continental championship with a narrow 2-1 win over Togo, was also benched.
Didier Drogba (L) challenges Tunisia's Aymen Abdennour during the game
Drogba has been a talismanic presence for the Ivorians over the years, with 56 goals in 91 appearances, but contributed little in their first match against Togo and was replaced with some 20 minutes left.
Former Chelsea teammate Salomon Kalou took his place up front at the start of the second match but Drogba preferred to focus on his team's title tilt.
For a fifth successive tournament, the Ivorians are favourites to win the title having twice been runners-up in the last four tournaments.
"We want to be in the same position as last time when we went to the final. We want to get there and see if we can change what happened in the past," Drogba said.
"We hope to be here until Feb. 10," he said referring to the date of the final. "We will play our best and try to progress."
The Ivorians, who also reached the semi-finals in 2008 and were knocked out in the last eight in 2010, face Algeria in their last group game in Rustenburg on Wednesday.
Togo beat Algeria 2-0 to put Ivory Coast into quarters
Togo's 2-0 win against Algeria in the African Nations Cup on Saturday helped keep their last eight chances alive and sealed Ivory Coast's qualification from Group D.
Emmanuel Adebayor after 32 minutes and Dove Wome's stoppage time strike at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace put Togo on three points with Tunisia and eliminated Algeria, while pacesetters Ivory Coast cannot finish lower than second.
Both goals came against the run of play after a Sofiane Feghouli-inspired Algeria dominated the opening stages and most of the match, which was halted for 13 minutes late on when one of the goal frames was broken.
Togo's match against Tunisia on Wednesday will decide who goes through alongside tournament favourites Ivory Coast, who play Algeria.