Cote d'Ivoire was 'already dead' at the Africa Cup. But the Elephants are somehow in the semifinals

Host country Cote d'Ivoire is writing Hollywood scripts at the Africa Cup of Nations.

AFP , Sunday 4 Feb 2024,
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Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast s forward #14 Oumar Diakite (C) takes his jersey off as he celebrates with teammates after scoring his team s second goal during the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2024 quarter-final football match between Mali and Ivory Coast at the Stade de la Paix in Bouake. Photo: AFP

 

The team has been implausibly avoiding elimination again and again in the tournament and now, somehow, the Elephants have made it to the semifinals.

The players held their heads after the latest incredible escape as if they couldn’t believe it, either.

“This evening was magnificent, magnificent,” Cote d'Ivoire captain Serge Aurier said after Saturday’s dramatic 2-1 win over Mali. “It’s really what we wanted to do – not the emotional roller coaster like that. But that‘s what makes football, and that’s what makes the beauty of this Africa Cup right from the start.”

Cote d'Ivoire was all but eliminated after a 4-0 defeat to Equatorial Guinea in the group stage, its second straight after a loss to Nigeria. The Ivorian federation fired its coach as the country wallowed in disappointment.

After scraping through to the knockout stage thanks to a Morocco win over Zambia in another group, Ivory Coast tried unsuccessfully to hire another coach for the remainder of the competition.

Next up was defending champion Senegal, arguably the strongest team in the tournament.

Senegal scored in the fourth minute and appeared set to eliminate Ivory Coast until Franck Kessié scored a penalty in the 86th minute to send the game to extra time. Kessié then scored the winning penalty in the shootout to give Ivory Coast a place in the quarterfinals.

That late drama was surpassed in the next game against Mali on Saturday when Ivory Coast had a player sent off and was down a goal after Nene Dorgeles’ brilliant strike for the Eagles in the 71st.

But Simon Adingra’s last-minute equalizer sent the game to extra time, and Oumar Diakité scored in stoppage time of extra period to send the Elephants charging into the semifinals.

“We were already dead after the defeat against Equatorial Guinea. We were resurrected thanks to Morocco’s win,” Ivory Coast interim coach Emerse Faé said after his second game in charge. “We said we’ve nothing left to lose, we’ll give everything, fight to the last minute. A match is 90 minutes or more and we don’t give up. And now, there’s still hope.”

Cote d'Ivoire will play Congo in the semifinals on Wednesday at the 60,000-capacity Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan, with the winner going on to face Nigeria or South Africa in Sunday’s final in the same stadium.

The Elephants will need to face Congo without goal-scorer Diakité, who was sent off for a second yellow card for taking his shirt off in the wild celebrations that followed his winner against Mali. Teammate Wilfried Singo tried unsuccessfully to stop the 20-year-old Diakité from removing his jersey. Defender Odilon Kossounou, who had been sent off earlier, is also suspended.

“We have other weapons,” Faé said. “We’ll take it all in, we’ll rest, we’ll recover because we played two periods of extra time in five days. We’ll analyze Congo well and look at what we can prepare to play against this team and cause them as many problems as possible.”

Diakité did not seem too concerned about missing the semifinal.

“If it continues like this, I think we can do nice things,” he said.

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Group A W D L P
Nigeria
2 1 0 7
Equatorial Guinea
2 1 0 7
Cote d Ivoire
1 0 2 3
Guinea Bissau
0 0 3 0
Group B W D L P
Cape Verde
2 1 0 7
Egypt
0 3 0 3
Ghana
0 2 1 2
Mozambique
0 2 1 2
Group C W D L P
Senegal
3 0 0 9
Guinea
1 1 1 4
Cameroon
1 1 1 4
Gambia
0 0 3 0
Group D W D L P
Angola
2 1 0 7
Burkina Faso
1 1 1 4
Mauritania
1 0 2 3
Algeria
0 2 1 2
Group E W D L P
Mali
1 2 0 5
South Africa
1 1 1 4
Namibia
1 1 1 4
Tunisia
0 2 1 2
Group F W D L P
Morocco
2 1 0 7
DR Congo
0 3 0 3
Zambia
0 2 1 2
Tanzania
0 2 1 2