Destiny appears to be Ivory Coast’s at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.
The hosts haven’t particularly played any match well at the tournament. But somehow, they find themselves 90 or 120 minutes away from the final. The Elephants rode their luck to emerge from Group A as the best third-placed team. They reached the knockout stages via the backdoor and have since eliminated holders Senegal and neighbours Mali, who were viewed by many as the dark horses of his tournament.
The Ivorians required a dramatic shoot-out to knock out Senegal before miraculously outlasting Mali despite playing 80 minutes with ten men. How Ivory Coast have reached the last four sounds like a wild dream but to their credit, the team have looked more assured in their last two matches as opposed to how they played in the group stage encounters.
There will be heightened pressure at Stade Olympique Alassane Ouattara in Abidjan where the second final will be held. The hosts will be without both Oumar Diakite and Odilon Kossounou after they were sent off against Mali, the former receiving his second booking for removing his shirt in celebrating the winning goal.
Striker Sebastian Haller appears to be approaching full fitness while Willy Bolly looks favourite to replace Kossounou. New coach Emerse Fae, a replacement of the sacked Jean-Louis Gasset, has done an admirable job in restoring confidence in a squad that was disjointed and broken by the 0-4 mauling at the hands of Equatorial Guinea in the groups. That result now looks like a distant memory today.
Playing at home will give Ivory Coast the advantage, no doubt; but beating Sebastian Desabre’s squad will need something more than fortuitous moments.
Brentford forward Yoane Wissa looks set to start for a DR Congo side that have no new injury worries. Like Ivory Coast, DR Congo have their own pedigree in the competition. That is an aspect that won’t get them to feel intimidated by the occasion. Ivory Coast are two-time Afcon champions, in 1992 and 2015, just like DRC who triumphed in 1968 and 1974.
The last time DR Congo played Ivory Coast at Afcon was the 2015 edition where the Elephants prevailed 3-1 thanks to goals from Yaya Toure, Gervinho and Wilfried Kanon. That Ivorian side, which would eventually lift the title, was quite decidedly more formidable than the one that has laboured to make the last four at the current edition.
The first semi-final at 8pm sees underdogs South Africa take on Nigeria’s Super Eagles at Stade de La Paix in Bouake. The Hugo Broos-coached Bafana Bafana started the tournament slowly – Mali dominated and beat them in their group opener - but the 1996 champions have gained momentum with each passing game.
Goalkeeper Ronwen Williams put on a penalty-saving performance for the ages and Nigeria coach Jose Peserio won’t want the game to be decided by the lottery from 12 yards should the match last 120 minutes.