The vibrant city of Abidjan erupted into wild celebrations on Monday night as the Ivorian national team, the Elephants, achieved the unexpected feat of eliminating the defending champions, Senegal's Teranga Lions, from the AFCON 2023 tournament.
The thrilling encounter concluded with a dramatic penalty shootout after both teams played to a 1-1 draw during regulation and extra time at the Charles Konan Stadium in Yamoussokro.
The Elephants of Cote d'Ivoire had faced the specter of an early exit following underwhelming performances in the group stage of AFCON 2023. With just one win and two losses, totaling a meager three points, their fate hung in the balance until the final day of the group fixtures.
Defying the odds, the defending champions, Senegal's Teranga Lions, were shockingly ousted from the AFCON tournament by the Elephants of Ivory Coast in a penalty shootout, with the Ivorians emerging victorious by 4-5 penalties after a 1-1 draw in regular time.
The key moment came when Moussa Niakhate of Nottingham Forest missed the 3rd kick for Senegal, and every other player successfully converted their kicks.
Despite the penalty-saving prowess of Senegal's goalkeeper, Mendy, he was unable to prevent the Ivorians from securing a place in the quarterfinals. Sadio Mane had initially set the stage for Senegal's victory with an early goal in the 4th minute, providing a precise pass to Saudi-based striker Habib Diallo.
The equalizer for Ivory Coast materialized in a dramatic fashion. Goalkeeper Mendy fouled an Ivorian player in the 6-yard box, prompting vehement protests from the Ivorian team. The ensuing controversy resulted in yellow cards being handed out to two Ivorian players, two Senegalese coaches, including Aliou Cisse, and a yellow for Mendy himself.
VAR intervened, confirming a penalty, and Saudi-based player Franck Kessive stepped forward to convert, leveling the score at 1-1 in the 86th minute and sending the fans into a frenzy.
Despite some contentious officiating, Ivory Coast, rising from the brink of defeat, will now face the Blue Sharks of Cape Verde in the 4th quarterfinal on Saturday, February 3rd, at 9 pm.
Senegal, the only team to secure a perfect 9 points in the group stages, scoring 8 goals and conceding only one, experienced an unexpected exit. Ivory Coast, initially facing protests and despair due to poor performances, has defied the odds and will continue their AFCON journey with renewed hope.
Reflecting on the historical matchups between Ivory Coast and Senegal, the encounter on Monday night adds another chapter to their footballing rivalry. The upcoming quarterfinal clash against Cape Verde presents an opportunity for the Elephants to showcase their resilience and pursue their third AFCON title since 2015.
With a FIFA global ranking of 49th, Ivory Coast boasts a rich football history, having achieved notable victories and endured challenging defeats, making each encounter with the Teranga Lions a captivating spectacle.