Sebastien Haller scored the winner as hosts Ivory Coast beat DR Congo 1-0 to set up a final meeting with Nigeria in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.
In the 65th minute at the Ebimpe Olympic Stadium, Borussia Dortmund striker Haller made his tournament debut after suffering an injury. His shot looped over the custodian and in. Haller connected with a cross from Max-Alain Gradel.
That was sufficient to end a heated but competitive semifinal match; the Ivorians will now play Nigeria at the same location on Sunday to determine the winner.
The two-time champions are the first host nation to make it to the Cup of Nations final since Egypt did so in 2006, and their incredible comeback from almost elimination in the group stage is truly astounding.
“It gives us immense pleasure to qualify for the final of a home AFCON, especially after the run that you all know we have had. We are so happy and so moved,” said midfielder Franck Kessie.
DR Congo, on the other hand, suffered a heartbreaking loss. Ever since they emerged victorious as Zaire in 1974, they had dreamed of making their debut in an AFCON final.
On the eve of this match, Ivory Coast’s own temporary coach Emerse Fae, who took over for the fired Jean-Louis Gasset after disastrous group stage results, called the team’s run “miraculous”.
This was their first game at the Ebimpe Olympic Stadium on the dusty outskirts of Abidjan since they were humiliated and on the verge of elimination following a 4-0 loss by Equatorial Guinea on January 22.
As the final squad standing in third place, the Elephants just made it to the round of16, when they were eliminated by holders Senegal thanks to penalties.
They then defeated Mali in the quarter-finals, even though they only had ten men for the majority of the game. Their victory came in extra time.
“The 4-0 I think acted as a trigger for us, because that defeat hurt so much,” Kessie said.
“We knew it was going to be difficult to get through to the next round. It seemed it was going to be a fiasco, but we got lucky and were saved.
“After that we felt we had nothing to lose and everything to win.”
Oumar Diakite, who won the match against Mali, was suspended in this instance, along with Christian Kouame, Odilon Kossounou, and captain Serge Aurier.
One of the players joining was Haller, the forward with magical powers who was at last totally fit.
In their most recent semifinal match in 2015, the Ivorians had defeated the DR Congo 3-1, and they were seeking revenge.
Their players’ will to bring attention to the predicament of the millions of Congolese impacted by the conflict in the country’s east has motivated them throughout this competition.
With one hand covering their mouths and the other to simulate a rifle aiming at their heads, the Congo squad demonstrated during the playing of the national anthem.
“It was a message of support for the victims, to show what is happening in the east. We had to shine a light on it,” said Congolese coach Sebastien Desabre.
The ball was in the net for the Leopards in the ninth minute after a strong start.
The ball was knocked past custodian Yahia Fofana by Cedric Bakambu and into the net, but the Libyan referee disallowed the goal due to a foul.
The Ivorians had the best opportunities of the first half when, in the fortyth minute, Haller rose unmarked in the box and somehow headed wide from Wilfried Singo’s cross.
After after, Kessie struck the post with a shot, and shortly before the hour, he threatened once more, forcing goalie Lionel Mpasi to make a save.
Not long later, Haller swung his leg in expectancy rather than hope as Gradel held up a cross from the right, and the breakthrough was achieved.
Although there was not much contact, the ball rebounded into the ground, looped over the defenceless Mpasi’s head, and entered.
There were wild festivities and Fae was jumping around in his special area.
Haller had more opportunities to extend the lead, but one goal was sufficient, and as the final whistle blew, a thunderous cheer was heard.
Photo by Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix