Ivory Coast will meet Zambia in the African Cup of Nations final on Sunday after a fine solo effort from Gervinho helped them to a 1-0 win over Mali in Libreville.
The Arsenal forward settled the semi-final moments before half-time as he carried the ball from his own half before curling a low effort beyond Mali goalkeeper Soumaila Diakite.
Mali midfield star Seydou Keita was fit for the match after an ankle knock, but striker Modibo Maiga missed out through injury. Cheick Diabate came into the attack, while Mustapha Yatabare replaced the injured Abdou Traore in coach Alain Giresse's other change. Ivory Coast made three changes with Salomon Kalou, Cheik Tiote and Siaka Tiene coming in for Max Gradel, Arthur Boka and Kafoumba Coulibaly.
There were jubilant scenes at the final whistle and Ivory Coast will now contest their third African Cup of Nations final. It will be their first since 2006 when they lost on penalties to Egypt.
Francois Zahoui's side started the stronger, hitting the post twice in the first 15 minutes.
Tiene curled in a vicious in-swinging free-kick and Didier Drogba's downward header smacked against the post.
Moments later Drogba's long-range free-kick bounced up and hit goalkeeper Diakite in the face as Mali showed some early nerves in the semi-final.
They did threaten at the other end when Cheick Diabate's shot was deflected over the bar by a good diving block from Sol Bamba.
Kalou played the ball into the area for Yaya Toure whose ferocious right-footed shot slammed against the near post as Mali's goal led something of a charmed life.
Drogba held up the ball superbly and eluded two defenders, but dragged his shot wide of the far post as Ivory Coast enjoyed the lion's share of the chances.
They took the lead moments before half-time. Gervinho collected the ball from Yaya Toure inside his own half and nutmegged Ousmane Berthe but there was still plenty for the Arsenal man to do. Somehow he was able to dribble down the left and into the area without a single challenge from a Mali defender. Captain Cedric Kante, who was impressing in the centre of defence until that point, did not make a challenge and despite Berthe's best efforts to get back, Gervinho was able to curl the ball low past Diakite into the far corner.
The second-half was largely devoid of chances as Ivory Coast comfortably dealt with what little threat Mali had to offer.
The Elephants could have doubled their lead when Yaya Toure played the ball to Kalou on the edge of the area. Kalou's first touch was superb and his left-footed shot was tipped over the bar by Diakite.
A forceful run from Drogba saw the Chelsea striker hold off Kante before the outrushing Diakite blocked his goal-bound shot.
Yaya Toure should have done better than head a corner from substitute Kader Keita over the bar, but Mali never looked like making Zahoui's men pay for their missed chances.
Ivory Coast will now play Zambia in the final where the so-called 'golden generation' will have another chance to win a major trophy.
Mali will face Ghana in the third-place play-off on Saturday after coming up short in Libreville.
|Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are those of the writers and do not reflect those of Peacefmonline.com. Peacefmonline.com accepts no responsibility legal or otherwise for their accuracy of content. Please report any inappropriate content to us, and we will evaluate it as a matter of priority.|