AFCON, Football

Ivory Coast vs DR Congo: Haller sends hosts to AFCON final

After defeating the Democratic Republic of the Congo 1-0, Sebastien Haller led the host Ivory Coast to the Africa Cup of Nations final and within one game of the ultimate redemption.

After firing their manager and facing elimination in the group stage, the Elephants were granted a mercy two days later, finishing in third place but in fourth place overall.

Subsequently, they overcame a deficit to defeat Senegal in the round of sixteen, and then required a late equaliser in the ninetieth minute and the game’s final kick to defeat Mali in the quarterfinal.

They’ve now advanced to the final for the fifth time thanks to a goal from Haller, and if Emerse Fae, the interim manager who took over for Jean-Louis Gasset following the embarrassing 4-0 loss to Equatorial Guinea, can lead them to victory against Nigeria on Sunday, it will undoubtedly mark the most incredible turn of events in any significant international competition.

The 1968 and 1974 winners, DR Congo, were a formidable force and appeared to have scored after nine minutes, but Cedric Bakambu booted the ball out of custodian Yahia Fofana’s hands and bunched it in.

The first chance for the two-time winners Ivory Coast came from quarterfinal hero Simon Adingra, who rose at the far post and headed across goal and wide for Brighton.

Then, Haller, a former West Ham striker, attempted a spectacular overhead kick that cleared the top of the Congo goal.

Now playing for Borussia Dortmund, Haller wasted the best opportunity of the first half, missing a clear header eight yards out from goal off Wilfried Singo’s inviting cross that he shot terribly wide.

Shortly after, the hosts were upset at halftime as Franck Kessie’s low shot from the edge of the box brushed the far post.

Theo Bongonda was brought on by Congo at halftime, and the Spartak Moscow wide player nearly made an immediate impression by racing into the area, dodging three defenders, and slamming a shot into the side netting.

Kessie’s hard drive with the Ivory Coast’s first on target stung Congo keeper Lionel Mpasi’s gloves. In the sixty-fourth minute, their second goal broke the tie.

Max Gradel’s cross was unorthodox and perhaps fortunate when Haller hooked it into the ground and watched it bounce and loop over Mpasi into the net.

Remarkably, it was the first time since the group-opening encounter against Guinea-Bissau that Ivory Coast had won the lead in a game.

A fortnight ago, it seemed impossible that the Elephants would make it to the final, but they managed to hold on and Haller missed a simple opportunity to extend the lead by sending his lob over Mpasi and wide.

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