Ivory Coast will meet Zambia in the final of the 2012 African Cup of Nations after a 1-0 win over Mali.
Gervinho’s goal just before half-time settled a tight encounter as the pre-tournament favourites reached their first final since 2006.
The Arsenal man sealed the win when he was allowed to run unchallenged from the half-way line, before curling a close range effort into the bottom corner of Soumbeyla Diakite’s goal.
The strike would break Malian hearts, as the Elephant’s strong defence, yet to be breached in the tournament, held firm to deny the West Africans their passage through to Sunday’s final.
The Eagles would have been quietly hoping for a shock result on the same level as the one Zambia produced over Ghana in today’s other semi-final, but their opponents proved to be too strong.
Mali’s chances of an upset looked ominous from early on, as the Ivory Coast started strongly. Captain Didier Drogba was unlucky not to score when his header hit the post in the 6th minute. Ten minutes later, Yaya Toure’s thumping drive also hit the woodwork with goalkeeper Diakite well beaten.
Mali weathered the early storm and, despite creating very little in an attacking sense, appeared to be going into half-time on level terms. Gervinho however, had other ideas.
Picking the ball up on the half-way line, the winger poked the ball through defender Ousmane Berthe’s legs and ran towards goal. With no Malian challenge forthcoming, he continued his run into the penalty area before opening up his body and slotting the ball expertly into the bottom corner.
Conceding a goal so close to the break was a huge blow for the Eagles, and a change of approach was imperative if they were to find a way back into the game and keep their African Nation’s dream alive.
But the urgency required to achieve this didn’t come until the final 20 minutes of the game. In fact, the Ivory Coast should have been out of sight by this point, as again Drogba and Toure failed to score their opportunities.
Ivory coast’s profligacy in front of goal ensured that the final few minutes were nervy, but when referee Daniel Bennett blew his whistle to signal the end, the Elephant’s delight of reaching the final was there for all to see. The players celebrated victory by kissing the turf and participating in the customary African celebratory dance.
So Sunday’s final at Libreville’s Stade de l’Amitie will see the Ivory Coast, giants of African football with their star-studded line-up, take on minnows Zambia. Many will believe that the Elephants already have one hand on the trophy. The Chipolopolo, having beaten Ghana and Senegal on their way to the final, will have other ideas, and will be aiming for their biggest shock yet.