Finalists Ivory Coast miraculously remain alive in Africa Cup of Nations, can hosts make it happen?

ANKARA: The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) hosts and finalists Ivory Coast experienced a roller-coaster ride during the tournament as football fans are wondering if the team from West Africa can win the title on Sunday.

The Ivory Coast, one of the leading football nations in Africa, were on the brink of a humiliating group stage exit but miraculously survived.

Called the Elephants, Ivory Coast were in the same group as Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria and Guinea-Bissau.

AFCON’s surprise package, Equatorial Guinea, won Group A with seven points. The other AFCON finalists that Ivory Coast will face, Nigeria, were second with seven points and joined Equatorial Guinea in the knockout stage.

Former champions Ivory Coast did things the hard way to reach the last 16.

The Elephants had three points after they beat Guinea-Bissau 2-0 in the tournament opener. But they lost to Nigeria 1 – 0 and Equatorial Guinea 4 – 0.

Ivory Coast were among the four highest-ranked third-place nations in the group stage after Morocc
o beat Zambia 1 – 0 in the other group to send the Ivorian national team to the Round of 16.

Head coach Gasset fired for poor performance

During the tournament, Ivory Coast’s head coach Jean-Louis Gasset was sacked for “insufficient results in the Africa Cup of Nations,” which meant the team had a poor group display.

Gasset was fired before the Elephants barely reached the knockout stage.

Emerse Fae, the U23 team manager, was given additional interim responsibilities.

Fae is still the Ivory Coast’s caretaker head coach.

Ivory Coast’s road to final

The Ivorian team has struggled in the AFCON knockouts.

In the last 16, the Ivory Coast, coached by Fae, have eliminated defending champions Senegal 5 – 4 on penalties after a 1 – 1 draw Jan. 29.

Ivorian midfielder Franck Kessie scored a late penalty to level the match in the regular time so the match continued in extra time, then with a penalty shootout.

Ivory Coast beat Mali 2 – 1 on Feb. 3 as a last eight clash saw late drama.

Reduced to 10 men, the Ele
phants, who came back in extra time against Mali, marched to the semifinals. Oumar Diakite scored the winner in the 122nd minute.

In a semifinal match Wednesday, Ivory Coast beat the Democratic Republic of Congo 1 – 0 in Abidjan.

Ivorian forward Sebastian Haller, who plays for Borussia Dortmund, scored a second-half volley.

The Ivorian team went through tough times in the tournament as they were expected to fail in previous rounds. But the Elephants reached the AFCON final.

With reigning champions Senegal and record holders Egypt were out of the contest in previous rounds, Nigeria and Ivory Coast are set to vie for the title in Abidjan.

Ivory Coast won AFCON twice in 1992 and 2015.

Nigeria, led by Napoli star Victor Osimhen, have won the AFCON title three times, with the last more than 10 years ago.

Source:Anadolu Agency