Cote D’Ivoire battle Congo DR at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium on Wednesday February 7, 2024 in the second semi-final at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.
It is the Elephants’ first game in Ebimpe since their 4#0 humiliation against Equatorial Guinea at the group stage, and they get the chance to appease the supporters in Abidjan against a DRC side keen to make the competition’s decider since 1974.
No other team has epitomised the drama-laden Cup of Nations more than the host nation, who have soldiered on despite their challenges with injuries and a dispiriting group stage.
The Elephants were on the brink of elimination after losing heavily in their final group-stage fixture against the Equatoguineans, but faith has been renewed in this side under Emerse Fae’s leadership since the ex-Cote D’Ivoire international replaced Jean-Louis Gasset before their knockout fate was determined.
Since that decision, the home side have eliminated defending champions Senegal and fought back incredibly with 10 men to score in the final minute of regulation and extra time to seal an incredible victory over Mali that raised the roof in Bouake.
While it is uncertain if Cote D’Ivoire have anything left in the tank, considering they have played an extra 30 minutes against the Teranga Lions and in Saturday’s quarter-final success, the hosts hope to draw inspiration from a crowd to take them through to their first final since reigning supreme on the continent in 2015.
With their adeptness at fighting back from slow starts, this team have nothing to fear against the DRC, even if Fae would be keen to avoid falling behind for the fourth game in succession, the Elephants conceded first against Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Senegal and Mali.
As for Sebastien Desabre’s men, securing their first regulation-time victory over Guinea was timely, as they avoided playing an additional 30 minutes in the 3-1 success.
The upshot of Chancel Mbemba, Yoane Wissa and Arthur Masuaku scoring against Syli National means the Leopards have made it to the competition’s semis for the first time since 2015 and only the second time since the turn of the millennium.
DRC have barely played this fixture since claiming the 1974 title and have been defeated in both semis in 1998 and 2015, even if they secured third place in both editions to lessen the pain of not making the deciding fixture.
The Leopards hope to be third-time lucky against the competition hosts, with the benefit of already playing at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium against Guinea standing them in good stead for Wednesday’s semi-final.
However, they did not contend with a partisan and hostile crowd in that fixture, suggesting different questions will be asked of Desabre’s side against the Elephants.
These teams have not met at AFCON since the 2017 edition, a group game that ended 2-2, extending DRC’s winless run against Cote D’Ivoire at the Cup of Nations to two games, having defeated the West African nation in their initial meeting in 2002.
Cote D’Ivoire are without the suspended Serge Aurier for an accumulation of cards, Odilon Kossounou, sent off for two yellow card offences in a nightmare 45 minutes against Mali, and Oumar Diakite, dismissed moments after scoring the quarter-final decider for receiving a second booking.
The Elephants have not started a game with Sebastien Haller and Simon Adingra, scorer of the 90-minute leveller in the last eight, but Fae could be tempted to play the pair from the off on Wednesday.
Ibrahim Sangare could be reinstated to replace Franck Kessie if he is healthy enough to return to the side.
Desabre’s men were without former Chelsea man Gael Kakuta in the round of 16 and quarter-final, and the attacking midfielder is doubtful for their next fixture.
The underdogs have four players risking suspension in a potential final, with Mbemba, Masuaku, Dylan Batubinsika and Theo Bongonda picking up bookings in the previous knockout rounds.
Unless Kakuta returns from his injury, the Leopards could name an unchanged side for the semi-final.
Cote D’Ivoire possible starting line-up
Fofana; Singo, Ndicka, Boly, Konan; Seri, Kessie; Pepe, Fofana, Adingra; Haller
Congo DR possible starting line-up
M’Pasi; Kalulu, Mbemba, Inonga, Masuaku; Pickel, Moutoussamy; Elia, Bongonda, Wissa; Bakambu
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