Just like in 1992, Ivory Coast defeated their neighbor and rival Ghana 9-8 in penalties to win the African Cup of Nations for the second time after a goalless draw. Often touted as the weak-link of the Elephants ‘golden generation,’ goalkeeper Boubacar Barry made two saves and the game-winning goal to become a hero forever in his country and he was reveling the moment after the match.
“I have been criticized, but I was able to progress,” said Barry to Canal Plus. “I’m not big in talent nor in size, but I wanted to develop and I worked for the team. My mother has suffered. Thanks to her, thank you to all Ivorians. Football allowed me to travel and there is not always room for everyone. But there is always room for work and God has rewarded me.”
During the game, both teams decided to attack each other from the flanks. Ivory Coast controlled the first 15 minutes of the match through winger Gervinho dictating play and captain Yaya Toure making runs from his defensive midfield position to contribute in the offensive movement. They had the first three corner kicks of the game along with a free kick right outside the 18-yard-box but Toure kicked it right to the Black Stars goalie Razak Brimah. Afterwards, the four-time winners began to take control of the match and created many opportunities. In the 26th minute, winger Christian Atsu, later given the Orange player of the competition award, powered a rocket shot right in front of the box but it right the far post. Left-back Baba Rahman had a great performance in the match with four tackles but in the 33rd minute his cross into the box had too much pace on the ball and a chance was wasted. Three minutes later Rahman delivered a nice ball to Andre Ayew, who won the Pepsi highest scorer prize of AFCON, but his shot his the near post before it went out of bounds. Heading into halftime, the match was very close but Ghana seemed to be the better team but had no goal to show for it.
The second half was a bland affair due to both teams eventually deciding that not conceding a goal was more important than scoring. Atsu, also given the Nissan Goal of the tournament award, remained the main outlet for the Black Stars down the right flank and for the Ivory Coast in was Gervinho on their right side. Also, right-back Surge Aurier for the Elephants was excellent as he had three dribbles and tied for the lead with teammate Serey Die with five tackles during the match. Ghana played like the more technical team but their neighbors played bully ball being aggressive and not allowing Ghana to counterattack without getting fouled. Near the end of extra-time, captain Asamoah Gyan was subbed out because he did not want to be involved with penalty kicks. Ghana’s all-time leading scorer is infamous in his homeland for his penalty miss against Uruguay in the quarter-finals that would’ve put the Black Stars in the semi-finals and for his spot kick mishap against Zambia in 2012 when his nation lost in the semi-finals. Gervinho was taken out also because he missed the last penalty against Zambia also in the 2012 AFCON final for his country to lose. This shows how much fans play a part of the psyche of African players compared to the rest of the world.
Ivory Coast missed their first two penalties but after that, made nine in a row and became champions once again after so much heartbreak. The Elephants manager Herve Renard becomes the first man to win the tournament with two different nations, Zambia three years ago and Ivory Coast in 2015. Toure expressed his gratitude after going through so much heartbreak playing for his country.
“Sometimes when you win with your club, it’s magical, but winning with your country is something exceptional. We worked so hard to win and we will celebrate with our families. I have waited so long for this moment and to lift a trophy as captain, it’s huge. We must congratulate coach Herve Renard, who has done a great job. We have often been aggressively criticised. I’ve lost twice in the final, so to be here now is fantastic. I’m so happy,” the Manchester City player said to L’Equipe.
Ghana’s manager Avram Grant did a fabulous job with his team. No one expected them to make it to the final and they had the game in their hands but couldn’t take advantage and now the Black Stars fall to 4-5 in AFCON’s last match.
“I feel painful to lose like this. I feel proud of what the boys did today. We scored the highest number of goals and conceded the lowest number of goals. This is football. And things like this can happen. We were the better side but in penalties, anything can happen,” said Grant.
Ivory Coast will be in jubilation for a long time while their neighbors will remain depressed. Ghana seems to now have a tradition of losing in the biggest moments and their glory days continues to be become further back in history. Congratulations goes to the Elephants for keeping their composure in the penalty kicks and becoming the kings of Africa once again.
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