The 4th of February and the Estadio de Bata was the location for the first semi-final of the 2015 Africa Cup of nations. Tournament favourites Cote d’Ivoire taking on DR Congo, fresh from a resounding victory over their Congolese counterparts. Although that was the first win of the competition for the DR Congo Leopards, they also come into the semi-final unbeaten. The Ivorians themselves also unbeaten have steadily improved through the rounds, starting to show their quality and strength in the knockout stages, albeit with a question mark over their back four with the exception of Kolo Toure. He has come into his own during the competition, overshadowing his sibling Yaya and will hope that Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has been taking note, the Ivorian finding himself on the outer at club level for most of the season so far. DR Congo’s danger man will again be Dieumerci Mbokani, scorer of two in the Quarter-Finals, the Dinamo Kyiev front-man has impressed throughout and will again be the focal point of the Leopards attack. He will be ably assisted by Yannick Bolasie, another who has been impressive in Equatorial Guinea and will look to feed Mbokani, his devastating pace enough to trouble any defence.
The game started uneventfully, neither side able to keep possession for any length of time, play broken up by free-kicks and a lack of urgency from both sides. The game was to spark into life at the twenty minute mark though, and in an unforgettable manner. Wilfired Bony found himself in possession inside the DR Congo box but his attempt to play in Gervinho was blocked by opposition defender Joel Kimwaki, but the ball sat up perfectly for Yaya Toure striding through, who smashed in an unstoppable screamer from 20 yards, a glorious opening goal worthy of the four-time African player of the Year. As we’ve seen throughout the competition, the lead was short lived, four minutes to be exact. The equaliser come from the penalty spot, Mbokani confidently side-footing past Sylvain Gbohouo after Eric Bailly had handles in the box after mis-timing his jump for a header. The equaliser failed to spur the Congolese Leopards into life though, finding themselves on the back foot for the rest of the half. The Elephants came close to equalising 5 minutes before half time when a perfectly weighted cross from Serge Aurier found Gervinho in the box but his header was kept out by a combination of cross-bar and the head of Gabriel Zakuani, fine defending from the Peterborough United centre back. Gervinho was not to be denied though, seconds later Bony played the Roma marksman through on goal with just the keeper to beat, this time making no mistake, expertly side-footing past Robert Kidiaba to make the score 2-1 going into the half time interval.
The second half was now make or break for DR Congo and they started the second period with some attacking verve, Bolassie instrumental in creating an early chance, once again using his pace and skill but often suffered from a lack of ball as the second half continued. Slowly but surely Herve Renard’s were turning the screw, the Leopards chasing shadows on occasion and after 67 minutes the lead was extended to 3-1, somewhat inevitably when Wilfried Kanon adjusted well to knee in a rebounded Aurier header, from a Yaya Toure corner. The wild celebrations that ensued showed a side that knew they were in the final now, DR Congo’s deflation evident in the subdued nature of the remainder of the game.
Afterwards Ivorian coach Herve Renard insisted his side can move up a gear from their semi-final performance, if they are to win their first Africa Cup of Nations title since 1992. With the added incentive of suffering two recent final defeats, in 2006 and 2012, to add to many other tournament disappointments, it’s difficult to look past the Elephants now going on to become Champions on Sunday. Renard himself was involved in one of those final defeats, when in charge of Zambia in 2012 and has the winning mentality important in getting any team across the line, especially for a team now so used to failure on the big stage. Either Ghana or Equatorial Guinea will also have plenty to say in whether the 22 year Ivorian drought can be broken but on paper they have a superior side to anyone left in the competition but as we have seen so many times at the Africa Cup of Nations, this counts for nothing.