The Ivorians have reached the quarter-finals at each of the past five AFCON tournaments, including two runner-up appearances - but a thrilling loss to DR Congo in Abidjan put their progression from Group D in jeopardy.
Both sides have six points through four matches, and trail leaders Cameroon (10 points) - with only two sides guaranteed a place in the continental finals - with third spot heading into the play-offs.
Neeskens Keban put the Congolese visitors in front in the 21st minute, only for Manchester City star Yaya Toure to provide an equaliser four minutes later.
However, a two-minute blitz had Congo well on top - Junior Kabananga's stunning scissor putting them up in the 35th minute before Jeremy Bokila added another moments later.
The hosts' chances of victory were further hampered two minutes into the second half, with Franck Kessie sent off.
Ivory Coast fought back admirably via Salomon Kalou's cameo, the Hertha Berlin striker firing in goals in the 69th and 72nd minutes.
But Congo had the final say, Bokila flicking home the winner with the outside of his right boot after being played in by Mbidi Mavuanga.
Cameroon were comfortable 2-0 winners at home to Sierra Leone, Leonard Kweuke and Stephane MBia scoring inside seven minutes.
In Group F, Cape Verde secured progression to the 16-strong tournament courtesy of a 1-0 win over Mozambique.
Rui Aguas' men cannot fall out of the top two, hence the nation's first trip to the AFCON finals was confirmed.
Zambia and Mozambique are level on five points, the former enjoying a 3-0 home win over Niger.
Algeria are the only team in qualifying with a perfect record, the north Africans making it four wins from four with a 3-0 victory over Malawi.
Coach Christian Gourcuff has led Algeria to the finals for just the third time since 2004, with a fourth-place finish in 2010 their best effort since winning the event in 1990.
Also in Group D, Ethiopia had a last-gasp 3-2 win away in Mali to earn their first points in qualifying, and join the side they conquered on three points in the race for a play-off spot.
In Group A, leaders South Africa were held to a 0-0 draw by Congo, while Nigeria enjoyed a 3-1 victory over Sudan to move off the bottom of the group.
Angola thrashed Lesotho 4-0 to move third in Group C, while Gabon fought back to draw 1-1 with Burkina Faso to retain top spot.
Ghana remain unbeaten in Group E after a 3-1 victory over Guinea, while Togo edged Uganda 1-0.
Botswana were the first team eliminated from the group phase, after a 2-0 loss to Egypt in Group G.
Tunisia scored at the death to edge Senegal 1-0, and remain three points clear top of the group and almost assured of a spot in Morocco.
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