Host country, the Elephants of Cote D'Ivoire, against all odds, zoomed into the final of the 2023 African Cup of Nations with a date against the Super Eagles of Nigeria on Sunday.
The triumph of the Elephants is a story of a team that emerged from ground zero to achieve hero status, given that they only survived with just a win from the Group A pairings. Equatorial Guinea walloped them 4-0, the Super Eagles also beat them 1-0, while the only win came from the whipping boys of the group, Guinea Bissau, whom they beat 2-0.
However, going to the knockout stages, things began to change as the team started to find their footing, even with the defeat handed down to the defending champions of the AFCON, Teranga Lions of Senegal.
Now, the Elephants of Cote D'Ivoire have reclaimed the jungle and on Wednesday chased out the Leopards of the Democratic Republic of Congo in a grueling 1-0 encounter of the 2nd semifinal of AFCON 23.
The Elephants secured a lone goal victory to send the hardworking Leopards into the lesser 3rd place match with the effort of Borussia Dortmund's Sebastien Heller. He received a floater from Gradel on the right flank in the 65th minute, making the ball bounce high from the turf to beat the Congolese goalkeeper.
While many 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 their way into the final.
The Elephants will now meet the Super Eagles of Nigeria in the final on Sunday at 9 pm.
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 will battle South Africa for the Bronze medal on Saturday at 9 pm.
Host country Cote D'Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of Congo met a couple of times. On October 11, 2014, Ivory Coast won 2-1; another AFCON qualifier in a group D encounter played on October 11, 2014, which DR Congo won 4-3, and in the semifinal played on February 4, 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 January 20, 2017, it was 2-2; Ivory Coast won another Group C match on October 13, 2019, by 3-1, and the last time they met in an AFCON Group B match on January 18, 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.
Twenty-year-old Oumar Diakite scored the 120’ winner against Mali in the quarterfinal, becoming the youngest Ivorian scorer since Tchiressoue Guel in 1994 at 18 years 31 days. Dango Outtara of Burkina Faso was also an U21 to score the winning goal at the Knockout stage in the quarterfinal against Tunisia in 2022.
This is Ivory Coast's 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 the 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 a 4-0 loss in the tournament to Equatorial Guinea since Nigeria that lost 1-5 to Algeria in 1990 at group stages and faced the same Algeria in the grand finale losing 0-1.
DR Congo is seeking a 50-year return to victory in the semifinal since 1974. DRC is in her 6th AFCON semifinal; they won the previous two against Ethiopia in 1968 and Egypt in 1974.