Ivory Coast are one step closer to lifting their third Africa Cup of Nations trophy after defeating DR Congo 1-0 in the semi-final on Wednesday. The hosts relied on a brilliant volley from Sebastien Haller to secure their spot in the final, where they will face Nigeria on Sunday.
Haller breaks the deadlock in a tense match
The game was a tight affair, with both teams showing respect and caution in the first half. DR Congo thought they had taken the lead in the 12th minute, when Cedric Bakambu poked the ball over the line from a corner, but the referee disallowed the goal for a foul on goalkeeper Yahir Fofana.
Ivory Coast had a couple of chances to score, with Simon Adingra heading just wide from a cross by Wilfried Singo, and Haller missing a golden opportunity with a free header from close range. The Borussia Dortmund striker, who was making his first start of the tournament after recovering from an ankle injury, looked frustrated with his lack of accuracy.
The second half saw more intensity and urgency from both sides, as they searched for the breakthrough. DR Congo had a good spell of possession and pressure, but failed to test Fofana with any clear shots. Ivory Coast, on the other hand, found their rhythm and creativity in midfield, thanks to the Saudi-based duo of Franck Kessie and Seko Fofana.
The decisive moment came in the 65th minute, when Max Gradel delivered a perfect cross from the left wing, and Haller met it with a stunning volley that bounced off the ground and over the helpless Lionel Mpasi in the DR Congo goal. It was Haller’s first goal and first shot on target at the Afcon, and it proved to be the winner.
Ivory Coast survive late scare to book final date with Nigeria
DR Congo did not give up, and tried to find an equalizer in the final minutes. They came close in the 88th minute, when Meschack Elia volleyed just wide of the post from a cross by Jordan Botaka. In injury time, Simon Banza had another chance, but he blasted his shot over the bar from a good position.
Ivory Coast held on to their slender lead, and celebrated their victory with their jubilant fans at the Stade Alassane Ouattara in Abidjan. The Elephants, who had sacked their coach Jean-Louis Gasset before the tournament and scraped through the group stage, have shown remarkable resilience and improvement in the knockout rounds, beating Senegal, Mali and DR Congo with late goals.
They will now face Nigeria, who beat South Africa on penalties in the other semi-final, in the final on Sunday. The Super Eagles, who have won the Afcon three times, will be a tough opponent for the hosts, who are aiming for their first title since 2015 and their third overall.
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