Ivory Coast’s journey in the Africa Cup of Nations took an unexpected turn as they triumphed over reigning champions Senegal in a thrilling last-16 match on Monday night after the Elephants waked up from their slumber against the Perfect Teranga Lions.
Despite a rough start to the tournament with a 4-0 defeat to Equatorial Guinea, the host nation rallied back, securing a 5-4 victory on penalties.
The game, held in Yamoussoukro, witnessed early excitement as Habib Diallo scored for Senegal just four minutes in. However, Ivory Coast responded late in regular time with Franck Kessie converting a penalty, bringing the score to 1-1.
The tension escalated into extra time, but neither team could break the deadlock. The outcome was ultimately determined by a penalty shootout. Kessie emerged as the hero, securing Ivory Coast’s place in the quarterfinals by converting the decisive kick after Senegal’s Moussa Niakhate hit the post.
Despite the setback of a record 4-0 loss and the firing of coach Jean-Louis Gasset, the Ivorian supporters remained passionate, queuing overnight to purchase tickets for the crucial match.
Following the coaching change, assistant coach Emerse Fae made strategic alterations, introducing five new players to the starting lineup. Senegal, having comfortably topped their group, made three changes but faced a resilient Ivorian side.
Ivory Coast, labeled as the least impressive of the group stage qualifiers, showed improvement, taking control of the game. Senegal, however, showcased their defensive prowess by pulling all outfield players back when under pressure.
As the match progressed, Ivory Coast increased their possession, but Senegal remained threatening, with Ismaila Sarr’s shot parried and a penalty appeal rejected. The defending champions finished the first half strongly but couldn’t extend their lead.
In a tense final quarter, Ivory Coast maintained possession, and Senegal goalkeeper Edouard Mendy made crucial saves. The turning point came in the 86th minute when Mendy fouled Nicolas Pepe. After a VAR review, a penalty was awarded, and Kessie calmly converted, forcing the game into extra time.
The introduction of Sebastien Haller added excitement for Ivory Coast, but Senegal’s Sadio Mane missed a close-range shot. In a direct play, Senegal’s goalkeeper Mendy saved brilliantly from substitute Nicolas Pepe.
The deadlock persisted, leading to the penalty shootout drama, where Ivory Coast emerged triumphant, setting up a quarterfinal clash with Mali or Burkina Faso.