Sebastien Haller sent hosts Ivory Coast set up a blockbuster Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) final as they defeated Democratic Republic of Congo 1-0 in Wednesday’s closely fought semi-final tie at the Alassane Ouattara Olympic Stadium.
Borussia Dortmund striker Haller, formerly of West Ham, scored the game’s only goal, volleying home on 65 minutes when Max Gradel marauded down the right and crossed for Haller, whose acrobatic volley bounced up off the ground and over Mpasi, dipping under the post and in.
They will now face Nigeria in Sunday’s final, hoping to lift the AFCON trophy for the first time since 2015.
In a tense match often devoid of quality in the final third, DR Congo thought they had a ninth-minute lead when Cedric Bakambu headed home, but the referee felt the ball was unfairly kicked out of the hands of goalkeeper Yahia Fofana and disallowed the goal.
It was a massive turnaround for the host, who looked likely to be eliminated after the group stage and had fired their coach Jean-Louis Gasset, only to sneak into the knockouts and make it all the way to the decisive game of the Cup of Nations tournament.
Ivory Coast grew into the half after that scare – just as they have grown into the tournament after sacking manager Jean-Louis Gasset midway through – and Brighton’s Simon Adingra and Haller both missed presentable chances when they each headed wide from close range.
Franck Kessie stung the post with a fierce effort just before the break, and then forced DR Congo goalkeeper Lionel Mpasi into a decent save after the interval with a similarly powerful shot.
DR Congo had their chances after that – including when Meschak Elia’s controlled volley landed just wide – but the hosts held on and their destiny is now a meeting with Nigeria in Sunday’s final.
South Africa will lock horns with DR Congo for a third place play-off in another epic encounter on Saturday, February 10.