IVORY COAST ended years of frustration to claim their second African Nations Cup crown following a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over Ghana in the final.
The Elephants, whose only previous triumph in the competition came back in 1992, looked set for their third final defeat in nine years when they fell 2-0 behind in the shoot-out after the teams played out a drab goalless draw in Bata.
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But Ghana fluffed their lines and Ivorian goalkeeper Boubacar Barry would become the hero in this year’s edition when he first saved opposite number Brimah Razak’s penalty before stepping up to score his spot-kick and seal a climactic 9-8 success.
Barry created some controversy during the shootout after going down twice with what appeared to be cramp, the second time coming just before he took his decisive kick. Whether or not the Lokeren keeper’s actions were genuine, it added tension to an encounter that had been decidedly lacking excitement in the previous 120 minutes. The contest was billed as a “dream final” between two of the continent’s most prominent teams on the world stage – yet it proved to be uninspiring for large spells.
Herve Renard’s men enjoyed a sustained period of pressure in the early going, but they could easily have been reduced to ten men on the quarter-hour mark.
Serey Die’s high studs-up challenge on Wakaso Mubarak left its mark on the on-loan Celtic winger but only earned the Ivorian a yellow card.
Ghana defender Baba Rahman should have been punished for giving away possession to Gervinho but Max Gradel’s strike from the Roma forward’s through ball sailed over.
Steadily, though, Ghana grew into the contest and Christian Atsu, Everton’s on-loan player from Chelsea, came closest to opening the scoring when his first time, 30-yard blast rattled the post.
The four-time winners continued to grow in confidence and ended the half on top, with Andre Ayew striking the outside of the woodwork with his cross-cum-shot.
It was a game of very few clear cut openings, though, and that continued into the second half.
Ghana were lucky not to go down to ten men as a tangle between John Boye and Eric Bailly ended with the former appearing to headbutt the latter. Referee Bakary Gassama opted to take no action and Ivory Coast’s sense of grievance would have increased had the Ghanaian defender scored from Afriyie Acquah’s ball into the area.
As it was, Boye’s header narrowly missed the target and that was as close as either side would come until the dying seconds, when Ivorian full-back Serge Aurier’s low strike was palmed out by Ghana goalkeeper Razak.
The match predictably went into extra-time, but the pattern of defences dominating continued, with both managers reinforcing their striking options as penalties loomed. Jorden Ayew and Frank Acheampong were introduced for Ghana while Salomon Kalou and Junior Tallo came on for the Ivorians.
It appeared the writing was on the wall for Ivory Coast in the shootout when Wilfried Bony and Tallo missed their spot-kicks but Ghana pair Afriyie and Acheampong did likewise.
Neither side were willing to give an inch, but the tension was raised when Ivory Coast shot-stopper Barry – only playing because of an injury to Sylvain Gbohouo – went down midway through the shootout with apparent cramp.
But, at 8-8, he made the decisive save off Ghana keeper Razak and, after another brief stoppage, Barry stepped up and slotted home to spark wild Ivorian celebrations in Estadio de Bata.