Hosts Ivory Coast are fancied to continue their remarkable revival at the Africa Cup of Nations and ride a frenzied wave of home support as they seek a place in the final with victory over the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The two meet in Abidjan on Wednesday just hours after Nigeria face South Africa in Bouake in the first semi-final. The winners advance to Sunday’s final in Abidjan.
The Ivorians have put aside their stuttering start to the tournament, including a humiliating 4-0 loss in the group stage to tiny Equatorial Guinea, to reach the final four, roared on by capacity home crowds.
They return to Abidjan’s Alassane Ouattara Olympic Stadium, which is where they delivered timid performances in the group stage but now look a revitalised side after their come-from-behind knockout round success over holders Senegal and neighbours Mali.
“We were at the bottom of a hole after losing to Equatorial Guinea. We had to wait for the (rest of the) group matches to (finish to) find out whether we qualified, which happened. After all that we endured, we are no longer afraid of anything,” said influential Ivorian midfielder Seko Fofana.
“After the Equatorial Guinea match we were insulted and we felt alone. But we managed to get through. Champions always manage to advance,” he added.
The Ivorians take on a Congolese outfit who drew four successive matches before their 3-1 quarter-final win over Guinea.
They had set advancing from their group, which they did despite three draws, as their primary ambition for the tournament so anything they achieve now is a bonus.
“But now we are in the semi-finals, it would be stupid not to believe we can go on and get into the final,” said coach Sebastien Desabre. The Congolese won the second of their two Cup of Nations triumphs 50 years ago when the country was known as Zaire.
Nigeria have won all three previous meetings with South Africa at past Cup of Nations finals, the last in the 2019 quarter-final in Cairo.
Both sides have kept clean sheets through their last four outings at the tournament and beaten off difficult opponents to reach the semis.
Nigeria edged the Ivorians in the group stage and Cameroon in the last-16 while South Africa eliminated pre-tournament favourites Morocco.
“I think Nigeria is a team that has become better and better,” said South Africa coach Hugo Broos.
Nigeria are playing in a record 15th semi-final at the Africa Cup of Nations, but they have only progressed from one of their last six at this stage of the competition, going on to win the competition in South Africa in 2013.
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