Afcon hosts Ivory Coast through to finals, Nigeria defeat SA on penalties

Thursday February 08 2024

Ivory Coast's Franck Kessie (C) in action with DR Congo's Samuel Moutoussamy (L) during Africa Cup of Nations semifinal between Ivory Coast and DR Congo at Stade Olympique Alassane Ouattara in Abidjan, Ivory Coast on February 7, 2024. PHOTO | REUTERS


Sebastien Haller sent hosts Ivory Coast into the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) final as they beat Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) 1-0 in Wednesday's semi-final.

Haller's 65th-minute goal at the Alassane Ouattara Olympic Stadium continued a remarkable recovery by the Ivorians who were almost eliminated in the group phase.

Haller was making his first start after an ankle injury and his goal had a touch of fortune about it as he miscued his shot which bounced over Congolese goalkeeper Lionel Mpasi into the net.


Ivory Coast's Sebastien Haller celebrates scoring the team’s first goal against DR Congo at Stade Olympique Alassane Ouattara in Abidjan, Ivory Coast during Africa Cup of Nations semifinals on February 7, 2024. PHOTO | REUTERS

Haller had missed a close-range header from Wilfried Singo’s pinpoint cross in the 40th minute to suggest the Ivorian forward was ring rusty.

Read: Afcon: Ivory Coast shock Senegal, enters quarterfinals


He could have added a second three minutes after his goal when a poor back pass sent him free and although his effort to volley over the goalkeeper was clever, it was also off target.

Franck Kessie struck the woodwork with a powerful left- footed shot in the 42nd minute that hit the bottom of the post, bouncing away from goal with the Congolese keeper beaten.

It was all proof of the Ivorian dominance as they continued their revival after squeezing through the first round as the last of the best third-placed group finishers.

A 4-0 loss to tiny Equatorial Guinea and the subsequent sacking of veteran French coach Jean Louis Gasset is now all forgotten amid the celebrations of a capacity home crowd.

"It's like a dream for us. Two weeks ago, we were far from thinking about the final. Overall, I think this win was well deserved," said Emerse Fae, who took over as interim coach.

Read: Afcon hosts Ivory Coast sack coach Gasset

DR Congo’s best opportunity came at the end of a mazy dribbling run from substitute Theo Bongonda early in the second half, but he hit the side netting with his shot.

The Congolese were attempting to reach their first final in 50 years while the Ivorians are the first hosts to make the final in the last nine tournaments since Egypt in 2006.

"Little details made the difference tonight. We knew we had the capacity to move forward to the final, but we were up against a very good Ivorian side," said Congolese coach Sebastien Desabre.

Nwabali saves Nigeria on penalties

Three-time winners Nigeria were given a scare but reached the Afcon final after goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali saved two penalties in the shootout to guide his side to a 4-2 victory over South Africa following a 1-1 draw on Wednesday.

Nigeria had lost five of their previous six semi-finals at the continental finals and rode their luck in this one to book a place in Sunday's final, now to face hosts Ivory Coast.

Read: A football match with political undertones

William Troost-Ekong put Nigeria into the lead from the penalty spot midway through the second half, before South Africa earned a spot-kick of their own in the final minute of the 90 and it was converted by Teboho Mokoena.

South Africa lost defender Grant Kekana to a red card in extra time as Nigeria put them under constant pressure, and then lost their nerve too in the shootout as Nwabali saved from Mokoena and Evidence Makgopa.

"It was a very good victory against a very good team, the most organised team at the tournament. We deserved to win, but they (South Africa) deserved to win too," Nigeria coach Jose Peseiro told reporters.

"We were better in the penalty shootout, so my players deserve it. The team fought well."

Nwabali plays his club football in South Africa at topflight side Chippa United and was a surprise pick for the tournament having only won a single cap prior to the start of 2024 in a 4-0 loss to Mexico nearly three years ago.

South Africa will rue missed chances in the 90 minutes, not least in the dying seconds when right back Khuliso Mudau fired over the bar with the goal gaping but must now settle for a place in the bronze-medal match on Saturday.

Napoli striker Victor Osimhen won his side a penalty as he went down under the challenge of Mothobi Mvala, in what was an easy decision for Egyptian referee Amin Omar.

Read: Osimhen’s mystery injury ruffles Super Eagles plans

Troost-Ekong held his nerve to send his spot-kick down the middle of the goal to put them ahead in the 67th minute.

Nigeria thought they had a second on 85 minutes through Osimhen, but as they celebrated, the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) alerted the on-field official to an earlier foul on Percy Tau in the Nigerian box.

Nigeria's effort was chalked off and South Africa were awarded a penalty after a review, which Mokoena fired home before Mudau fluffed his golden chance to win it and the game went to extra time and penalties.

"Football can be hard when you see the performance of my team, and then there is penalties, and you lose the game and are not in the final. It is hard to accept that, we played a very good game," South Africa coach Hugo Broos said.

"It is a big disappointment, but I am very proud of my players. I think everyone now knows South Africa as a good team, and that is important."

DR Congo will play South Africa in the third-place playoff in Abidjan on Saturday.