Elephants of Ivory Coast Ram into AFCON Finals, Trample the Leopards of Congo by a Lone Goal

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By Eniola Olatunji

To meet Super Eagles of Nigeria in the AFCON Final on Sunday.

Hosts Elephants of Cote D’Ivoire on Wednesday slammed the Leopards of Democratic Republic of Congo 1-0 in the 2nd semifinal of AFCON 23 football tournament throwing a country that once mourned in the same tournament to ecstatic celebration.

The goal that sent the hard working Leopards into the lesser 3rd place match was a ridiculous one from Borusia Dortmund of Germany’s Sebastien Heller who on getting a floater from Gradel in the right flank in the 65th minute made the ball bounce high from the turf to beat the Congolese Goalkeeper.

Football stakeholders had predicted a Nigeria versus Ivory Coast final from the moment Ivory Coast got a comeback as a lucky loser into the Round of 16 and the Elephants bulldozed her way into the final.

The Elephants would now meet the Super Eagles of Nigeria in the final on Sunday at 9pm. The Super Eagles earlier flew past the Boys from South Africa 4-2 on penalties after 1-1 at fulltime. The two teams that had met in group A of the tournament are making a repeat of the encounter that Nigeria won by a lone goal.

The DR Congo team would battle South Africa for the Bronze medal on Saturday at 9pm.

Host country, Cote D’Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of Congo met a couple of times. On 11th October 2014 which Ivory Coast won 2-1; another AFCON qualifier in a group D encounter played on 11th October 2014 which DR Congo won 4-3 and in the semifinal played on 4th February 2015 at the Estado de Bata, Equatorial Guinea. Ivory Coast under Coach Herve Renard won 3-1 with goals from Yaya Toure 21’, Gervinho 41’ and Kanon 68’ while Mbokani scored a penalty goal in the 24th minute. Ivory Coast won the trophy that year.

On 20th January 2017 it was 2-2; Ivory Coast won another Group C match on 13th October 2019 by 3-1 and the last time they met in an AFCON Group B match on 18th January 2023 it was goalless.

To get to the semifinal, Ivory Coast in Group A beat Guinea Bissau 2-0; lost to Nigeria by a lone goal; and slumped in a disgraceful manner to Equatorial Guinea 0-4 to qualify for the knockout stages as a lucky loser only to dismiss the defending Champions, Senegal 8-7 via penalties after 1-1 at fulltime in the Round of 16 and in the quarterfinal the Elephants stopped the Stallions of Mali 2-1.

All the matches of the Leopards at Group stages were draws. She played 1-1 with Zambia; another 1-1 with Morocco and Goalless with Tanzania and in the Round of 16 the Leopards consumed the Pharaohs of Egypt via penalty kicks 8-7 after 1-1 at fulltime and in the quarterfinal stopped Guinea 3-1.

20 year old Oumar Diakite scored 120’ winner against Mali in quarterfinal becoming the youngest Ivorian scorer since Tchiressoue Guel in 1994 at 18years 31 days. Dango Outtara of Burkina Faso was also an U21 to score winning goal at the Knockout stage in quarterfinal against Tunisia in 2022.

This is Ivory Coast 10th appearance at AFCON semifinal along with Nigeria (15 times including this year), Egypt (13 times), Ghana 12 times and Cameroon 10 times. The last three occasions host nations reached semifinal they were eliminated without scoring a goal. Ghana in 2008 lost 0-1 to Cameroon; Equatorial Guinea in 2015 lost 0-3 to Ghana and Cameroon in 2021 drew 0-0 with Egypt and lost 1-3 on penalty kicks. The last host to reach Semifinal was Egypt in 2006.

Ivory Coast could be the first nation to reach the final of AFCON despite 4-0 loss in the tournament to Equatorial Guinea since Nigeria that lost 1-5 to Algeria in 1990 at group stages and faced same Algeria in the grand finale losing 0-1.

DR Congo is seeking 50 years return to victory in semifinal since 1974. DRC is in her 6th AFCON semifinal, they won previous two against Ethiopia in 1968 and Egypt in 1974.

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