ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – Sebastien Haller emerged as the hero for the hosts Ivory Coast as his solitary goal secured a hard-fought 1-0 victory over the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) semifinal clash on Wednesday.
The Borussia Dortmund striker, making his first start of the tournament following injury, connected with a Max-Alain Gradel cross in the 65th minute.
His shot looped over the goalkeeper, sealing the Elephants‘ place in the final against Nigeria who beat South Africa 4-2 on penalties earlier.
The Ivorians, two-time champions, showcased a remarkable turnaround in form after a turbulent start to the tournament.
Interim coach Emerse Fae described their journey as “miraculous,” highlighting their resilience and determination.
“We started the tournament on a difficult note, but the players showed immense character to turn things around,” Fae said after the match.
Ivory Coast breaks hosts jinx
The victory marks Ivory Coast’s first appearance in the AFCON final since 2006, making them the first host country to reach the final since Egypt achieved the feat in the same year.
In contrast, it was a heartbreaking defeat for DR Congo, who were aiming for their first AFCON final appearance since 1974.
The Leopards were spurred on by a determination to raise awareness of ongoing violence in their country, using the national anthem to protest against the plight of millions affected by the conflict.
The match was not without controversy, with DR Congo having a goal disallowed in the ninth minute for a foul on the goalkeeper.
Despite the hostile home crowd, the Ivorians grew into the game, creating several chances in the first half.
Haller, in particular, missed a golden opportunity with a headed effort before the interval.
However, it was Haller who eventually broke the deadlock, sending the stadium into frenzy with his decisive goal.
The hosts then pressed for a second goal, with Haller coming close again with a header and a lob.
As the final whistle blew, a deafening roar echoed around the stadium, celebrating Ivory Coast’s hard-fought victory and their place in the AFCON final.
They will now face Nigeria on Sunday in a highly anticipated showdown to decide the tournament’s champion.