Sebastien Haller the hero as Ivory Coast edge out DR Congo to set up AFCON final meeting with Nigeria – just two weeks after sacking head coach Jean-Louis Gasset

Sebastien Haller

Sebastien Haller emerged as the hero for Ivory Coast who edged out DR Congo to set up an Africa Cup of Nations final meeting with Nigeria.

Tell me more

It has been a fairy-tale run for the hosts as it has been just two weeks since they sacked head coach Jean-Louis Gasset after a 4-0 thrashing to Equatorial Guinea. Since Emerse Fae took over, the Elephants have crushed every opponent and have looked like a squad on a mission. And on Wednesday, it was no different.

It was a frenetic start to the match as a goalkeeping howler from Yahia Fofana saw Congo’s Cedric Bakambu find the net after latching onto a cross from Arthur Masuaku. However, much to the dismay of the visitors, the referee called a foul on the shot-stopper and disallowed the goal.

Fae’s charges then started to grow in the match and finished the half strongly. Haller missed a sitter despite being unmarked, while former Barcelona midfielder, Franck Kessie, was denied by the woodwork after he rifled in a low shot from the edge of the Congo penalty box.

Ivory Coast continued to build pressure and were rewarded for their perseverance in the 65th minute when Haller spectacularly struck to put the Elephants ahead. The Borussia Dortmund striker could have doubled his tally five minutes later after an awful defensive header from Kalulu gifted possession to him. Congo tried to get back into the game, but Ivory Coast held firm to book their place in the final against the Super Eagles.

Did you know?

When Ivory Coast lifted their second AFCON title back in 2015, they beat Congo in the last four by a 3-1 margin. Yaya Toure, Gervinho, and Serge Kanon scored on that fateful night for The Elephants.

The mvp

When the Ivory Coast fans were clamouring for a hero, Haller rose to the occasion and delivered the goods for his nation. The striker had a drab first half and missed a golden opportunity just minutes before half time to draw first blood. But he improved in the second half and looked threatening with his aerial presence in the Congo box. And it was one moment of quality which saw him convert a half-chance in what was his first goal of the tournament.

The big loser

Gedeon Kalulu must shoulder his fair share of the blame for Congo’s exit. The Lorient right-back was shaky in defence and his mistake cost Congo a final berth. Kalulu misjudged the flight of the cross, lost Haller, and the striker made him pay dearly. Things could have got worse for the 26-year-old as he almost set up Haller on a platter for his brace in the 72nd minute, failing to clear his lines with a defensive header.

What comes next?

Victor Osimhen’s Nigeria await Ivory Coast in the 2023 AFCON final. They are the first hosts, since Egypt in 2006, to make it to the final and Fae will hope his troops will continue their miraculous run on Sunday at the Olympic Stadium of Ebimpe.