Football

Franck Kessie the hero as Ivory Coast knock out Africa Cup of Nations holders Senegal on penalties

Africa Cup of Nations hosts Ivory Coast overcame their own poor form and lack of a head coach to upset reigning champions Senegal and progress into the quarter-finals on penalties.

The outcome was all the more improbable given Senegal had emerged from their group phase with a perfect record, the only one in the tournament, while Ivory Coast only snuck through as the lowest-ranked qualifier of the third-placed teams, without a goal in their previous two fixtures.

And if initially the form guide looked to be providing a fairly routine outcome, it was Ivory Coast’s persistance and ability from the spot – particularly from subsitute Franck Kessie – which ultimately had the defining impact.

Just five minutes in, the breakthrough came: Sadio Mane just about keeping the ball in play down the left and pinging over a cross to find Habib Diallo near the penalty spot. The Al-Shabab striker chested the ball down and spun to immediately power home a drive, high into the roof of the net, giving Senegal an early lead.

Despite clear early superiority, the Lions of Teranga sat back on their lead and rarely threatened the Elephants’ goal thereafter, Mane scooping one shot over the bar in the second half after Ismaila Sarr had seen a shot parried away – but that was about it. By contrast, Ivory Coast started slowly and had to patiently work their way into the game, building connections and confidence as they went, and were deserved victors by the time the final whistle of the night blew.

With Emerse Fae in the dugout as caretaker boss following the mid-tournament sacking of Jean-Louis Gasset, Ivory Coast turned to a succession of attack-minded substitutes to gradually crank up the pressure in the second half.

Christian Kouame, Franck Kessie, Sebastian Haller and Nicolas Pepe were all summoned and each played a part in the eventual equaliser with just five minutes remaining; Pepe it was who was eventually clattered into by former Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, a penalty given following a VAR intervention, with the on-pitch referee inexplicably ruling it not a foul initially.

Kessie stepped up to coolly convert and send the tie to extra time, and while chances were few and far between in the added 30 minutes, it was Ivory Coast who undoubtedly had the better of the final hour or so of the match overall, had more attacking intent and certainly had the better combinations about their game.

In the shootout, nine of the ten penalties were expertly dispatched – but Moussa Niakhate’s shot onto the outside of the post and wide allowed Kessie to once more step up and plant his own, final strike high into the net.

As the stadium exploded in delight and possibility once more, Ivory Coast through to face either Mali or Burkina Faso, Senegal are instead left to rue what might have been as they exit early in the defence of their title.

Xural.com

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