With four days until the champion of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations is crowned, the host nation Ivory Coast face DR Congo as they try to book their place in that final.
The Ivorians have recovered from a disastrous group-stage to claim two dramatic knockout wins, while The Leopards have been unerring in their path to the semi-final. Can The Elephants rise to the roar of the home support? Or are DR Congo ready to drown out the noise?
The case for Ivory Coast
Two losses, including a heavy 0-4 defeat, in the group stages? No problem. Firing your manager mid-tournament? No worries. Four player suspensions for tonight’s semi-final against DR Congo? No set-back has been too big yet, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Ivory Coast find a way once again.
Ivory Coast will be without captain Serge Aurier and Christian Kouame through yellow card accumulation, and Odilon Kossounou for a 43rd minute red.
Quarter-final match-winner Oumar Diakité will also miss-out after earning his second yellow of the match for taking his shirt off. Emotions clearly overtook Diakité after he scored the winner in the 122nd minute to earn him a red.
Caretaker manager Emerse Fae is wary of the ‘destiny‘ discourse surrounding the Elephants. They are looking to become the first team since Egypt in 2006 to win AFCON as the host nation.
At the pre-match press conference Fae admitted his side have started too slowly in the last two games and getting off on the right foot tonight is key to advancing to the final.
He said, “This time we’ll look to capitalise on the confidence we’ve built to impose our gameplan from the off.”
Ivory Coast are looking to win their third AFCON title and first since 2015. But first they must win against a tough opponent in DR Congo to make it to the final. The two sides last faced each other in January 2023 and ended in a 0-0 draw.
The case for DR Congo
DR Congo recorded their first win of the tournament as they downed Guinea 3-1 in the quarter-finals.
Having drawn their four previous games, The Leopards overcame an early deficit with goals from Chancel Mbemba, Yoane Wissa, and Arthur Masuaku.
Masuaku netted a stunning free-kick
They will now face an Ivory Coast side who have rebounded from a disastrous group stage campaign to place a first AFCON title since 2015 within reach.
The Elephants will be roared on from all corners of the Alassane Ouattara Stadium and showed their never-say-die attitude in their dramatic quarter-final victory over Mali.
Seko Fofana celebrates Oumar Diakité’s 122nd minute winner
The Leopards may not be the favourites, but they have garnered some knockout pedigree of their own.
Their confident win over Guinea proved relatively comfortable, but their round-of-16 tie with Egypt was decided by penalties.
With the stakes as high as ever, Congolese keeper Lionel Mpasi kept his cool from the spot to secure an 8-7 shootout win.
Few would have anticipated their run to the semi-finals pre-tournament, but The Leopards will be ambitious as ever now that they lie within two wins of a first AFCON title since 1974.
With the troubled domestic situation in the country at present, the players are hoping to deliver a win that can help inspire peace.
Posting on X (formerly known as twitter) Cédric Bakambu highlighted the plight of the Eastern region of DR Congo, where violence continues after at least 60 civilians were murdered in October amidst fighting between M23 Rebels and pro-government militias.
He urged: “Use the same energy that you put into talking about the Nations Cup to highlight what is happening with us. There are no small gestures.”
🇨🇩 Tout le monde voit les massacres à l'Est du Congo. Mais tout le monde se tait.
Mettez la même énergie que vous mettez pour parler de la CAN pour mettre en avant ce qu'il se passe chez nous, il n'y a pas de petits gestes. pic.twitter.com/PUZCavuckC
— Cédric Bakambu (@Bakambu17) February 5, 2024
History favours the Ivorians in this fixture, emerging as 3-1 victors in the last semi-final meeting between these nations before claiming the 2015 AFCON trophy.
The weight of history is unlikely to faze the current Leopards, though, who have quietly put together an impressive campaign.
Brentford FC’s Wissa has scored twice at his debut AFCON, and his overall play on the left-flank has been impressive too.
Left-back Masuaku, formerly of West Ham United, has complimented the forward nicely and ranks amongst the most creative players at the tournament with the second most chances created (10) and the most passes into the opposition box (53).
For all his creative endeavour, the full-back is yet to register an assist so he will hope to see some more incisive finishing this evening.
The roar of the home crowd will be deafening, but there is every chance these Leopards will roar back.