AFCON 2023: Ivory Coast's road to the final
Ivory Coast’s progression to the AFCON final is reminiscent of a fantastical journey
The African Cup of Nations (AFCON) is not just a football tournament; it’s a stage where nations showcase their talent, determination, and passion for the beautiful game. Ivory Coast’s path to the Africa Cup of Nations 2023 (AFCON 2023) final has been anything but ordinary. From near group stage collapse to overcoming adversity, the “Elephants” have captured the hearts of their nation with their resilience and determination.
Entering the tournament with high expectations as hosts, Ivory Coast entered into the tournament as fan favourites, and a team to beat in this year’s AFCON. They kicked off their campaign against a Guinea-Bissau side, who conceded a goal in the opening moments of the match. Ivory Coast took the lead in the fourth minute of the match, thanks to one of their marquee players: Seko Fofana.
Guinea-Bissau tried well enough to hold on to the hosts in the first half, the Ivorians started the second half the same as the first half with a similar intensity and the hunger for scoring goals, to give their fans something to cheer about. In the 58th minute, Krasso doubled the scoring for the host nation ending their opening match with a win.
Verge of elimination:
After starting the campaign on a positive note, things turned in favour of Ivory Coast. In the second matchday, they faced Nigeria, a team that ended their first match 1-1 against Equatorial Guinea. Nigeria had to win the match to stay in the competition, and a 55th-minute penalty secured the hard-fought win which put Ivory Coast in a tough position heading into the final matchday.
In the final matchday, Ivory Coast had to win their match against Equatorial Guinea, which they ended up losing by the margin of 4-0. Ivory Coast, the host nation of AFCON, then went on to sack former manager Jean-Louis Gasset midway through the tournament after two consecutive group-stage losses to Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea.
Ivory Coast had luck in their favour, despite two losses in the group stages, they qualified for the knockout stage as the fourth-best third-placed team in their respective Group, eliminating Ghana and Zambia on better points.
Out of the blue round of 16 clash:
Ivory Coast then had to face off a strong Senegal side, Senegal was the only team to win all of its group games and arguably looked like the strongest contender but things took a different turn in this match. Senegal swiftly asserted themselves, securing an early advantage within four minutes. Sadio Mane’s delivery from the left found its mark as Habib Diallo expertly controlled the ball with his chest before unleashing a powerful strike from 10 yards, ultimately nestling into the top corner of the net.
However, Senegal failed to extend their lead and faced the consequences when the Ivorians were granted a blatant penalty, leading to an equalizer courtesy of the substitute Franck Kessie just four minutes before the conclusion of the 90-minute regulation period.
The match proceeded to a penalty shootout, where the unlucky Niakhate faltered on his team’s third attempt, hitting the post, the Ivorians maintained their composure and successfully clinched a spot in the quarter-finals and ended Senegal’s chances of winning back-to-back tournaments.
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In a stunning turn of events, Ivory Coast secured their spot in the semi-finals of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations with a thrilling 2-1 victory over Mali. The dramatic encounter unfolded as Adama Traore’s missed penalty for Mali set the stage for a riveting contest.
Nene Dorgeles appeared to seal the win with a second-half goal, only for Simon Adingra to level the score in the last minute. As the match seemed destined for a penalty shootout, Oumar Diakite emerged as the hero, capturing the spotlight in the closing moments.
Experiencing both a red card and securing the decisive goal, he was absent in the semi-final. However, his absence in that crucial match could have potentially deprived his team of reaching this stage in the tournament.
Underdog semi-final against DR Congo:
Despite facing setbacks, including the dismissal of their manager mid-tournament and two losses in the group stages, the hosts gradually found their rhythm in the match. Their first-half efforts against DR Congo, including a header from Haller and a strike from Frank Kessie hitting the post, left them unlucky not to be in the lead at halftime.
The decisive moment came in the second half when Haller expertly volleyed Max Gradel’s cross into the ground, the ball looping over the helpless Lionel Mpasi and finding the back of the net, securing a place in the AFCON final for the hosts.
Having last claimed the tournament title in 2015, Ivory Coast now sets their sights on the final showdown against Nigeria on Sunday. This follows Nigeria’s triumph in a penalty shootout against South Africa on the same day.
Clash of two Group A teams in the final:
On the day Ivory Coast made it to the final, their journey was characterized as “miraculous” by their interim coach, Emerse Fae. He assumed the role after the dismissal of Jean-Louis Gasset, prompted by disappointing outcomes during the group stage.
On Sunday in Abidjan, the final of the ongoing African Cup of Nations will witness a fierce clash between the Super Eagles of Nigeria and the Elephants of Ivory Coast. Two countries with very contrasting campaigns will meet again to decide who takes the trophy home.
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