From brink of elimination to AFCON final: Ivory Coast beat Congo to set up Nigeria finish

February 8 – Ivory Coast interim coach Emerse Fae described his team’s achievement in winning through to the final of the Africa Cup of Nations as being “like a dream” after the tournament hosts beat the Democratic Republic of Congo 1-0 in Wednesday’s last-four encounter.

Just a couple of weeks ago the hosts were on the brink of being eliminated in the group stage following a humiliating 4-0 thrashing by Equatorial Guinea but now find themselves in the final against Nigeria.

The defeat by Equatorial Guinea was Ivory Coast’s heaviest ever home loss, only to scrape through as the last of the four best third-placed teams thanks to Morocco winning their last group game against Zambia.

Coach Jean-Louis Gasset was sacked following the debacle and Fae, who had been an assistant, was promoted to the role of interim coach.

Sebastien Haller scored the only goal of the game against Congo in the 65th minute, the culmination of a remarkable turnaround for the Elephants.

“We are happy, we’re really moved. It’s like a dream, when you go back two weeks to the defeat here against Equatorial Guinea,” said Fae. “It was hard then to imagine that we might qualify for the final of our own AFCON.”

Under him, Ivory Coast beat holders Senegal on penalties in the last 16, and then came from behind to beat Mali in extra time in the quarter-finals, despite playing most of that match with 10 men.

“As long as you still have a five or 10% chance you need to keep believing, because that is what makes football beautiful,” said midfielder Franck Kessie, who was named man of the match against DR Congo.

“After the Morocco result we knew we had qualified and that changed everything. It gave us the strength we needed, it boosted us. We knew we couldn’t do worse than in the first round. We need to keep going like this because you can’t go all the way to the final only to then give up.”

Sunday’s final will be a repeat of the group game on January 18, which the Super Eagles won 1-0.

In the other semifinal the three-time champions downed South Africa 4-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw. After taking the lead Nigeria thought they had doubled it on 85 minutes when star forward Victor Osimhen scored.

But play was called back to the other end and, after the Egyptian referee checked the pitchside VAR monitor, he awarded South Africa the penalty which they scored to set up extra time and penalties.

But in the shootout, South Africa captain and goalkeeper Ronwen Williams, who saved four kicks in a quarter-final shootout win over Cape Verde, could not stop a single one this time.

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