Haller goal takes Ivory Coast through to AFCON finalWed, 07 Feb 2024 23:16:36 GMT

Sebastien Haller was the hero with the only goal of the game as hosts Ivory Coast beat the Democratic Republic of Congo 1-0 to win through to the final of the Africa Cup of Nations on Wednesday.Starting for the first time at the tournament following injury, Borussia Dortmund striker Haller connected with a Max-Alain Gradel cross in the 65th minute at the Ebimpe Olympic Stadium, his shot looping over the goalkeeper and in.That was enough to settle a tense but open semi-final showdown, and the Ivorians will now face Nigeria at the same venue on Sunday to decide who takes the title.The two-time champions are the first host country to reach the final of the Cup of Nations since Egypt in 2006, and the turnaround is absolutely remarkable for a team that was on the brink of elimination in the group stage.”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.In contrast, it was an agonising defeat for DR Congo, who had been dreaming of a first appearance in an AFCON final since they were champions as Zaire in 1974.Ivory Coast’s run had been described on the eve of this game as “miraculous” by their own interim coach Emerse Fae, the man who replaced the sacked Jean-Louis Gasset following embarrassing results in the group stage.Humiliated and on the verge of elimination after a 4-0 defeat by Equatorial Guinea on January 22, this was their first match at the Ebimpe Olympic Stadium on Abidjan’s dusty outskirts since then.The Elephants scraped through to the last 16 as the last of the four best third-placed teams, then ousted holders Senegal on penalties.They then beat Mali in the quarter-finals — despite playing most of the match with 10 men — with their winner coming in added time 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, the match-winner against Mali, was suspended here along with captain Serge Aurier, Odilon Kossounou and Christian Kouame.Among those coming in was Haller, the talismanic forward who was finally fully fit.- Congo protest -DR Congo were looking to avenge their 3-1 defeat by the Ivorians in their last semi-final, in 2015.Their players have been spurred on during this tournament by a determination to raise awareness of the plight of millions of Congolese affected by violence in the east of the country.The Congo team used the national anthem to protest, covering their mouths with one hand and using the other to imitate a gun pointing at their heads.”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 Leopards started well and had the ball in the net in the ninth minute.Cedric Bakambu knocked the ball out of goalkeeper Yahia Fofana’s grasp and into the net, but the goal was disallowed by the Libyan referee for a foul.The biggest chances of the first half fell to the Ivorians, with Haller rising unmarked in the box only to somehow head wide from Wilfried Singo’s cross in the 40th minute.Kessie then crashed a shot off the post and he threatened again just before the hour mark with a powerful strike that forced goalkeeper Lionel Mpasi into action.The breakthrough followed soon after, as Gradel held up a cross from the right and Haller swung his leg in hope rather than expectation.The connection was not great but the ball bounced down into the ground and then looped over the head of the helpless Mpasi and in.Frenzied celebrations ensued, while Fae leapt around in his technical area.Haller had further chances to add to the lead, but one goal was enough and a deafening roar greeted the final whistle.