Brave Elephants fulfil their promise

By sportsnewsarena correspondent
Feb 09, 2021
With late replacement hosts Equatorial Guinea not only managing to organise a good tournament but also providing a strong side themselves, the tournament spotlight was nonetheless stolen by Côte d’Ivoire, who finally secured their second African title after many years as continental favourites.

The champions
Côte d’Ivoire started slowly and went into their final group game needing a victory to be assured of a place in the knockout stage. But once they had seen off Cameroon's challenge, there was no stopping them, as they cruised through the quarter and semi-finals. In the championship match, Boubacar Barry was an unlikely hero for the Elephants as the Belgium-based goalkeeper played his first match of the tournament, saving Razak Braihmah's spot-kick, before converting his own, to give Côte d’Ivoire a 9-8 win.

The favourites
Like Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana improved as the tournament went on, and the Black Stars comfortably qualified for their ninth final. In the final shoot-out they were well on their way to a fifth title when they scored their first two spot-kicks and the Elephants' missed theirs, but in the end there was disappointment as they lost their third final in a row. Africa's top ranked team, Algeria, were unlucky in that Ghana's two late goals against South Africa saw the Desert Foxes finish second in their group. That, in turn, meant a quarter-final against Côte d’Ivoire, which the North Africans lost 3-1. The other team from the Maghreb region, Tunisia, were beaten 2-1 in the quarter-finals by the hosts.

The surprises
Although their campaign ended in disappointment, the hosts did well to advance to the knock-out stages and then qualify for the semi-finals at the expense of Tunisia. Until their semi-final the Nzalang Nacional played a refreshingly attractive attacking football. Congo also punched above their weight, securing their first AFCON victory since 1974, while Congo DR finished third – much better than many expected. Two other sides that impressed and held African heavyweights Côte d’Ivoire and Cameroon to draws were Guinea and Mali.

The disappointments
Drawn into the so-called Group of Death, South Africa disappointed not through their ability. Bafana Bafana could not hold a lead in each of their group games and finished with just one point. Burkina Faso brought several of their 2013 runners-up squad, but they did not even come close to escaping the group stages. Talented upstarts Cape Verde Islands, who were the surprise team at the last finals, had high hopes this time around, but went out without a win, even though they did not lose a game either.

The stars
Côte d’Ivoire coach Herve Renard was not the only one who thought that Andre Ayew was the stand-out Ghanaian player at this tournament. The Olympique Marseille player, who was used as a winger or second striker, captained the side in Asamoah Gyan's absence and led by example. Gyan, when available, showed that he still has plenty of top-class football left in him and scored the all-important goal against Senegal, while Christian Atsu was recognised as the player of the tournament. In a Côte d’Ivoire side filled with stars, Gervinho stood out when he came back from suspension, while Kolo Toure was impressive in the back.

Guinea's Ibrahima Traore, and Congo's Thievy Bifouma had only four matches to show their class, but did so, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was the shining light in a disappointing Gabon side. Rainford Kalaba picked up two man-of-the-match awards but could do nothing as the 2012 champions Zambia crashed out in the first round. Sofiane Feghouli was impressive on the right wing for Algeria.

New faces
Goalkeepers Felipe Ovono (Equatorial Guinea) and Fabrice Ondoa (Cameroon), defenders Eric Bertrand Bailly (Côte d’Ivoire) and Baba Rahman (Ghana) emerged at the start of their careers, while others like Emilio Nsue (Equatorial Guinea), Yannick Bolasie (Congo DR) and Kwesi Appiah (Ghana) are well into their careers, but impressed on Africa's biggest footballing stage for the first time.

Did you know?
The 23 years that Côte d’Ivoire fans had to wait between titles is the longest time any team had to wait before winning their first and second title. Only Egypt had a longer wait of just under 27 years, but that was between their second title (1959) and their third (1986).

The stat
480 –
The minutes that the Ivorians have played in the final match of the AFCON without scoring – or conceding – a goal. They have appeared in four finals, all going to a penalty shoot-outs after goalless draws.

What they said
"Being champion of Africa is something they can never take away from you,” Côte d’Ivoire coach Herve Renard.