Ivory Coast end Africa Cup of Nations drought in dramatic shoot-out
Herve Renard became the first coach to win the Africa Cup of Nations with two different countries, ending the Ivory Coast’s 23-year wait to win this continental competition with a 9-8 penalty shoot-out victory over Ghana.
This lethal lottery that saw the Elephants miss their opening two spot kicks followed a cagey 120 minutes of football punctuated by poor, niggling fouls that the Gambian official largely let go.
Black Stars centre back John Boye and Ivorian counterpart Eric Bertrand Bailly, recently signed by Villarreal, were both lucky to avoid early baths after going head-to-head during normal time.
Bailly, bought by the Yellow Submarine following the sale of Gabriel Paulista to Arsenal, redeemed himself following this unsavory incident in the additional half hour, however, when he blocked Asamoah Gyan’s goal-bound effort.
What the match lacked in drama, the shoot-out ably delivered. Manchester City’s £27m signing Wilfried Bony hit the bar from 12 yards and Junior Tallo missed the target completely with his first touch.
That put the Elephants at a major disadvantage, but Barry saved from Afriyie Acquah and Ghana sub Frank Achaempong placed wide, allowing Seydou Doumbia to level the shoot-out up at 2-2.
Penalties flew in thereafter, bringing it down to the keepers. Brimah Razak saw his effort stopped by Barry, who had gone down perhaps feigning cramp in between saves, but again dusted himself down to net a sensational spot kick winner 9-8 after all 22 men had taken one.
It was a shame to see the so-called ‘Golden Generation’ of Ivorian footballers take such a cautious approach to a major final. Retired Didier Drogba has his own club heroics to enjoy, although the absence of an international honour will stand out from a glittering CV.
Caginess was also symptomatic in the Ghanaian camp, with key duo Andre Ayew and Asamoah Gyan seeing little sight of goal during the two hours of play.
Avram Grant, named Black Stars boss a mere six weeks before the tournament, did fantastically well to make such an impact, even with a side fancied to go all the way. Penalty pain is something familiar to the Israeli coach, but this was surely even more cruel and hard to bear than John Terry’s slip in Moscow.
Renard, meanwhile, has perhaps shown the Elephants the way. In blooding Bailly and Wilfried Kanon, the succession to Kolo Toure has been assured in central defence. Punters should expect the veteran Liverpool player to follow Drogba and call time on his international career now.
The same may be said of former PSG left back Siaka Tiene, while the likes of Serey Die, Salomon Kalou and Yaya Toure also face decisions over whether they wish to prolong playing at club level by now walking away from representing their country.
What this AFCON win can do is act as a watershed. The ‘Golden Generation’ now have nothing to prove. How they won this tournament and the way they went about the final are mere trivia that will pale compared to the fact they did deliver. That is what will be writ large in African football history.
Playing 3-4-3 might also be a tactical legacy Renard leaves should he decide his work is done as Ivory Coast coach. Predecessors have played more open and expansive football, but this traditionally attacking setup has been replaced by more midfield discipline, the retention of width and crosses on the counter.
Ghana should keep faith with Grant going forward too. With a youthful Black Stars squad assembled, there is long-term planning in place and the current side could still quite conceivably turn out at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Unlike the Elephants, their neighbours are unlikely to face a changing of the guard scenario soon.
And what of three years’ time? Coral rate both Ghana and Ivory Coast equal 200/1 shots to win the World Cup. They are naturally outsiders in what will be a hostile atmosphere, but it will be interesting to see how these two African forces take to going in different directions.