Sebastien Haller fires Ivory Coast into Africa Cup final against Nigeria. Hosts beat Congo 1-0
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast: Sebastien Haller fired host nation Ivory Coast into an Africa Cup of Nations final against old foe Nigeria with a 1-0 win over Congo on Wednesday.
Haller scored when his volley from Max Gradel’s cross bounced before going in under the crossbar in the 65th minute, setting off wild celebrations in the 60,000-capacity Alassane Ouattara Stadium.
Haller was making his first start of the tournament after recovering fully from an ankle injury, further good news for Ivorians who were already convinced God is helping the Elephants to their third Africa Cup title.
Progress seemed unlikely after a 4-0 loss to Equatorial Guinea left the team on the verge of a group-stage exit. But Ivory Coast has bounced back since firing its coach by overcoming one setback after another.
“It’s like a dream,” said interim coach Emerse Fae, who had to do without four players who were suspended for the semifinal following the dramatic quarterfinal win over Mali.
Kelechi Iheanacho scored the winning penalty earlier to send Nigeria to the final with a 4-2 shootout victory over South Africa after their semifinal ended 1-1 after extra time.
“It has been with me since growing up, I need to win something with the Super Eagles,” Nigeria star Victor Osimhen said.
Congo had made a good start against the home team. Cédric Bakambu thought he’d put the Leopards ahead but his celebrations were cut short and the goal ruled out as goalkeeper Yahia Fofana was deemed to have had the ball.
“It could have been another match,” Congo coach Sebastien Desabre said of the disallowed goal. “But we can’t rewrite history. It is how it is.”
Simon Adingra headed a good chance wide and Franck Kessié struck the post for Ivory Coast, while Yoane Wissa had an big chance saved by Fofana at the other end.
Fan favorite Haller headed the best chance of the first half wide in the 41st and went on to miss other good chances. All were forgiven when he scored the winner.
Congo’s players and Desabre protested by holding their right hands in front of their mouths and two fingers to their temples during the country’s anthem to spotlight the armed violence taking part in the east of the country. The players also wore black armbands for the game.
SUPER EAGLES PREVAIL
There were no heroics this time in the penalty shootout from South Africa goalkeeper Ronwen Williams, who saved four in the quarterfinal win over Cape Verde.
Nigeria counterpart Stanley Nwabali made two penalty saves to deny the Bafana Bafana a place in the final — diving to the bottom left corner to thwart Teboho Mokoena, then Evidence Makgopa’s centrally placed effort.
The game in Bouake had barely started when Osimhen doubled over in apparent pain. Osimhen was an injury worry before the game because of abdominal pain, but he was able to resume after a brief pause.
Nwabali was busy early on as South Africa dominated possession and created more chances in the first half.
Nigeria got their break midway through the second when Mothobi Mvala conceded a penalty for a foul on Osimhen.
Nigeria captain William Troost-Ekong coolly fired the spot kick to the center of the goal in the 67th, though Williams almost stopped it with his legs.
Osimhen thought he’d sealed the win in the 85th, only to have the goal ruled out after a VAR check found Alhassan Yusuf had fouled Percy Tau in the area. South Africa was duly awarded a penalty.
Mokoena made no mistake with the spot kick to equalize in the 90th minute and Khuliso Mudau went on to miss a great chance to seal a South African win in stoppage time.